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Neighbors share concern over Fawn Valley housing

This map is part of a site plan for the Fawn Valley development, submitted to the Lake Placid-North Elba Joint Review Board. (Photo provided)

LAKE PLACID — Neighbors of a property where a new housing development has been proposed brought forward several concerns at a public hearing on the project this week.

The neighbors mostly live on either Acorn Street or Chickadee Lane, both of which connect to Wesvalley Road, where the Fawn Valley development is proposed. They questioned the impact the new homes would have on traffic, safety and quality of life for surrounding property owners.

Some of the neighbors who spoke were critical of the amount of tree-cutting that would happen if the project moves forward, while others noted that when paired with a separate housing complex proposed on that same street, to be called MacKenzie Outlook, the impact of the development on traffic at the Saranac Avenue intersection could prove unsafe or cumbersome. Neighbors also shared concerns about the density of the development and possible noise pollution.

In each instance, construction manager Steve Sama said he either shared similar concerns or would discuss the issues with his board.

This development is being undertaken by the Homestead Development Corporation, an organization led by Sama, North Elba town Councilwoman Emily Politi, local real estate agent Whit Bissell, former Lake Placid mayor and current mayoral candidate Jamie Rogers, and accountant John Huttlinger Jr. It’s one of three housing developments currently in the works in housing-crunched Lake Placid, and the second planned for Wesvalley Road.

The HDC’s goal, according to its application to the Lake Placid-North Elba Joint Review Board, is to “help develop more affordable housing stock in Lake Placid” — specifically housing for “skilled trades, professional workers and their families who are challenged to find housing near their workplace.”

The Fawn Valley complex would include six single-family, Cape Cod-style houses and 16 two-bedroom condominiums located within four condo buildings, located off of Wesvalley Road across from Nash and Acorn streets. That’s a total of 22 new housing units.

The cost of these new units is intended to be affordable to a family making up to 200% of the area’s median household income, or about $147,000, according to the project application.

Sama said construction at the property would last about two years, starting late this spring. The houses would be built in the first year, and the condos would be built in the second year.

Affordable?

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.

Much like the Peaks at Lake Placid housing development currently being undertaken by local developer Joseph Barile, this Fawn Valley project wouldn’t address the needs of that demographic. The developer’s target price is $155,000 for the condos and $185,000 for the single-family houses, according to the project application.

However, at the public hearing on Monday Sama noted that the houses were to be sold “at cost.” Though the housing wouldn’t serve the demographic that the housing needs assessment study identified as needing the most housing, the price of these homes would be lower than that of many of the properties currently on the market in Lake Placid.

Home values in Lake Placid have soared over the last few years as the demand continues to far outweigh the supply. One reason for that is an explosion of short-term vacation rentals in recent years, which has shifted many apartments and houses out of the long-term residential market.

The town and village joint land use code will require at least three of the Fawn Valley condos to be set aside as low-income housing. “Low income” in this case is defined as a condo with a mortgage payment less than 30% the income of a family of four earning 80% of the area’s median household income.

The HDC has been fundraising to build this complex.

Neighbor concerns

In a joint letter submitted to the review board, neighbors David and Sandra Mishanec lodged two specific concerns about the project: that the 22 additional units would “substantially increase the flow of traffic entering and exiting Wesvalley Road, especially in the direction of Saranac Avenue,” and that the development seems to include “a rather dense cluster of units packed into a small area.”

On the traffic issue, the Mishanecs noted that they’ve witnessed “numerous instances of ‘near misses’ as motorists attempt to exist onto Saranac Avenue,” and they’ve also seen a similar issue with drivers attempting to turn from Acorn Street onto Wesvalley Road.

The Mishanecs suggested a traffic light be installed at the Wesvalley-Saranac Avenue intersection, a suggestion that Code Enforcement Officer Michael Orticelle noted is beyond the village or town’s control. Saranac Avenue is a state road maintained by the state Department of Transportation.

The Mishanecs also questioned how the developer plans to ensure the units aren’t used as vacation rentals.

Like Barile with the Peaks at Lake Placid complex, the HDC developers want to deed-restrict the Fawn Valley properties. These restrictions would ban use of the properties for short- or long-term rentals, and would cap the resale price on the homes to be “limited to the initial investment, plus 25% of the appreciated value,” and “the appreciated value of all approved capital improvements,” according to project documents.

In another joint letter to the review board, neighbors Carol Pinney and Ronald Doell also cited concerns over increased traffic on Wesvalley Road.

“We already have trouble going out of Chickadee because of traffic coming down the hill,” Pinney added at the public hearing Wednesday.

Sama said he believes traffic safety issues existed in the project area before the development was planned.

“Work needed to be done before we arrived on this scene,” he said.

Pinney and Doell questioned if the number of parking spaces planned to serve the condos, about 1.5 spaces each, will be adequate. That number of parking spaces does meet land use code requirements.

They also shared concern over the tree cutting planned on the property.

“The 10 ft. structure setback seems inadequate for a meaningful screening buffer for such a dense project. Wooded land is not always respected and the temptation to let the dog ‘go’ on our property is also of concern; we do not want more loose dogs or cats,” they wrote.

On the tree cutting issue, Sama said his organization is “working on it.”

“We want to minimize that as much as possible,” he said, noting that new vegetation and trees would be planted.

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