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Public speaks on the Peaks

The former W. Alton Jones Cell Science Center in Lake Placid is seen from an aerial drone. (Provided photo — Splitrock Productions)

LAKE PLACID — Plans for a proposed housing complex at the former W. Alton Jones Cell Science Center are gradually moving through the review process.

The Lake Placid-North Elba Joint Review Board held a public hearing on plans for the new Peaks at Lake Placid complex last Wednesday, one of the final steps before the review board will determine whether to approve or deny the project. The Adirondack Park Agency and the state Department of Transportation will also have to sign off on the plans.

At the public hearing, a few neighbors shared some apprehension about possible noise pollution in their neighborhood, and concern about the potential impact of the complex’s energy usage on their electric rates.

One neighbor, Lee Lamparski, also asked how the developer planned ensure that the apartments in this complex won’t be used as short-term vacation rentals.

Local developer Joseph Barile, who is leading this project, invited the neighbors to tour the property and outlined a number of design elements the project engineers have built in to try to mitigate the concerns that were raised.

A design sketch shows what the Peaks at Lake Placid housing development is expected to look like. (Provided image — Barile Family Development)

This project is the largest development to come before the joint review board in some time — perhaps ever. It’s one of two large-scale housing projects in the works right now, both intended to be used first as athlete housing for the 2023 World University Games before they’re converted to long-term residences. The other complex would be a 60-unit apartment building on Wesvalley Road, under development by Ardsley-based Regan Development.

The Regan Development complex is expected to be affordable housing, while the Peaks at Lake Placid complex is what Barile described as “mid-level workforce housing,” which will be rented at a higher rate and feature more amenities.

Housing, and the lack of affordable options for it, has been a point of discussion within this community for years. Consultants hired to study Lake Placid’s housing needs in 2019 said this area is facing a “workforce housing crisis.” The impact of that crisis is seen in ways large and small; many businesses struggle to retain long-term staff because of a lack of affordable housing, the local school district has seen its enrollment decline as home values have soared and the number of homes available declines, and the community’s year-round population has been declining for several years.

A housing needs assessment study released last year showed that with a target of 50% of the local workforce living within the community, North Elba and Lake Placid have a need for roughly 1,534 “workforce and affordable level” housing units. Most of that assessed need, 1,013 units, is for people who make less than $35,150 per year. In the study, affordable rent for that income range is defined as less than $879 per month for an apartment and under $123,000 for a house.

The Peaks at Lake Placid project wouldn’t address the needs of that demographic — Barile said during the public hearing last week that the apartments’ rent would be between $1,100 to $2,100 per month — but it would add 355 new units to the market. Of those, 265 would be apartments for rent, and 90 would be condominiums.

A design sketch shows how the Peaks at Lake Placid housing development is expected to be laid out on the former W. Alton Jones Cell Science Center property. (Provided image — Barile Family Development)

The Peaks at Lake Placid complex, if approved, would also have some on-site features that aren’t common for apartment buildings in this area. Barile plans to build a clubhouse, fitness center, swimming pool, day care center, recreational fields and underground parking garages for the residents to use.

Apartments at set price, for long-term renters

In response to neighbor concerns that the new units would be used as short-term vacation rentals rather than full-time residences, Barile explained how he plans to ensure the apartments are used by long-term residents.

Developer Joe Barile presents plans for The Peaks at Lake Placid housing development to the North Elba Town Council in July 2020. (Enterprise photo — Elizabeth Izzo)

Barile said he plans to meet the vacation rental requirement with what’s called a declaration of covenants. That legal document, which would be attached to the deed, would include rules against using the units as short-term vacation rentals. Those rules would be enforced by the complex’s homeowners association, according to Barile.

Price points

Asked how much his apartments would be rented for, Barile explained that the price of his units would be tied to the county’s average median income.

Of the 265 apartments, 37 would be rented at a price considered affordable to someone making 120% of Essex County’s area median income, which would mean rents up to about $1,100 per month based on the county’s 2020 AMI of $73,700. The other 228 apartments — not counting condominiums — would be rented at a price affordable to someone who makes up to 150% of the county’s AMI.

The town’s land use code requires developers who build more than 10 new units to either allocate a certain number of them to income-based housing — usually one affordable unit for every 10 units built — or pay a fee into an approved nonprofit housing fund. Barile said he has an agreement with the town that requires him to set aside those 37 units at the lower price point.

Noise screening

In response to the noise concerns, Barile pointed to landscaping plans that will put a tree barrier between the complex and most neighboring properties.

He also offered to shift the orientation of the complex’s maintenance building so the entrance pointed away from neighbors, but Review Board Chairman Bill Hurley, who co-owns a fuel company, cautioned that a different orientation would be less than ideal for maintenance vehicles.

Energy use

When asked if energy use at the complex might increase the electric rates of other ratepayers, Aztec Geothermal President John Ciovacco, on behalf of Barile, explained that there may actually be a positive impact to other ratepayers because by selling more electricity, the village could see an overall revenue boost.

The Lake Placid Electric Department is allotted a set amount of hydropower each month — about 29 megawatts, according to Electric Superintendent Kimball Daby — through an agreement with the New York Power Authority. When Lake Placid ratepayers collectively use more than that allotment, the department then has to purchase power on the open market, and ratepayers will see a fee on their bills as a result of that purchase. Normally, that power purchased on the open market would cost far more than hydropower through NYPA, but in the last three years the cost has been similar, according to Daby.

How much electricity will be used at the complex is unknown — it’s not built yet, and no one is living there and using utilities. But Barile said that when the original Cell Science Center was operating, it used “quite an enormous” amount of energy, in part because the 1970s-era building was “very under-insulated.”

Barile said the complex is expected to use “about 55% to 60%” of the amount of energy used by the original facility, and that’s if they don’t use geothermal technology.

Barile has repeatedly touted this project as one of the largest residential green energy projects in the country. His goal, he said, is an 80% reduction of the carbon footprint. Plans for the project include many solar panels.

A large portion of the property, about 25 of 34.5 acres, would also be green space, according to Barile.

“Our overall goal here is to create a residential community that is both balancing the site with green space and development,” he said.

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