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‘Soft start’ scrapped

Saranac Lake idea for outdoor dining deemed not allowable; mayor says process led to better understanding of what villagers want

W.B. Mason delivery person Joe Hance, of Plattsburgh, wheels supplies into Grizle-T’s bar on Main Street in Saranac Lake Thursday afternoon. (Enterprise photo — Lou Reuter)

SARANAC LAKE — The village has retracted a plan for downtown restaurants to set up outdoor dining areas on village sidewalks after county and state officials deemed the concept not compliant with current guidelines meant to slow the spread of the new coronavirus.

“Though we are disappointed, we will acquiesce to this determination in solidarity with our county and state leadership which has made an extraordinary effort to contain the COVID-19 pandemic in New York and relies upon the goodwill and cooperation of all its citizens and local governments to achieve success,” village Mayor Clyde Rabideau wrote in a statement he emailed early Friday morning.

This so-called “soft start” for downtown restaurants and shops would have started today. It was planned to be a weekly Saturday evening feature of the village’s Main Street and Broadway business district, where participating businesses could set up tables on select sections of sidewalk and customers ordering take-out food from restaurants could sit and eat there.

Later, the plan was to include sidewalk sales by retail stores.

Franklin County Legislator and Tupper Lake village Mayor Paul Maroun said the county was receiving calls about this proposal.

Saranac Lake Mayor Clyde Rabideau speaks at Berkeley Green in Saranac Lake in July 2019, introducing Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul. (Enterprise photo — Elizabeth Izzo)

“It’s absolutely not allowable,” he said.

He and Essex County Board of Supervisors Chairman Shaun Gillilland, of Willsboro, both said the North Country Regional Control Room found that the proposal is not authorized under Phase 1 of the state’s reopening plan, which the North Country is currently in. The North Country Regional Control Room is a task force appointed by the state to manage the region’s reopening. Saranac Lake is split between Franklin and Essex counties; the downtown area is in Franklin County.

Restaurants will be able to open for dine-in customers in Phase 3 of the reopening process, which could begin June 12 at the earliest in the North County, if the region continues to satisfy a series of state metrics on COVID-19 cases, testing and contact tracing.

Rabideau said the process of planning and then withdrawing the idea gave village officials “a better understanding of the vast spectrum of feelings of our citizens, their fears, their hopes and their wants.”

All the restaurateurs who talked to the Enterprise Thursday said they were just learning of this announcement when asked about it, and they were hesitant to say they would participate because they had not been presented the plan before it was introduced.

The plan was drawn up by Rabideau, the four village board trustees, village Chief of Police James Joyce and village Manager John Sweeney via emails and phone calls, outside of village board meetings and without consulting village Public Health Officer Ray Scollin. Rabideau announced it Thursday.

Rabideau listed several different viewpoints he is hearing.

“There is no denying many Saranac Lakers justly remain fearful of contracting COVID-19 and have anxiety about venturing outside,” he wrote. “They are also fearful of the virus spreading to others in the community through contact and thus elevating the potential danger. There is no denying that others have no fear and passionately hope our community quickly returns to normal.

“There is no denying that businesses are suffering terribly, and our economy is in peril. Many business owners are unsure how to appropriately open in the phases ahead or even if their customers will return when they do.

“We will not satisfy all while doing so, but as our Governor has expressed many times since this crisis started, ‘It’s not about me, it’s about we,'” Rabideau wrote.

The state has not yet announced an official position on whether Saranac Lake’s plan meets its guidelines. Rich Azzopardi, a senior advisor for Gov. Andrew Cuomo, said Thursday afternoon he had not seen the announcement and has not responded to Enterprise inquiries since then.

Rabideau did not return Enterprise phone calls Thursday or Friday to expand on his written statements.

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