Lake Placid mayor candidates debate
LAKE PLACID — Some of the issues Lake Placid’s two mayoral candidates spoke about Sunday, at a forum hosted by the Enterprise and Lake Placid News, have been problems for the village for decades — such as parking and affordable housing.
They also discussed regulation short-term vacation rentals, protecting Mirror Lake and bringing large-scale events back to Lake Placid this summer.
The candidates for mayor are current Trustee and Deputy Mayor Art Devlin on the Republican and Teamwork party lines and former mayor Jamie Rogers on the Common Sense party line. Devlin, who owns the Art Devlin’s Olympic Motor Inn, has been trustee since 2009 and is now term-limited and can’t run for a trustee seat again. Rogers currently works at Tri-Lakes Marine and was mayor for one four-year term from 2005 to 2009. Before that he served as a trustee for five years.
The election is March 16. Polls at the North Elba Town Hall are open from noon to 9 p.m. Registered voters should have already received applications for absentee ballots in the mail.
A full video of the forum is available at https://www.tinyurl.com/lakeplacidmayorforum.
Housing, short-term rentals
Both Devlin and Rogers agreed that the lack of affordable housing options in Lake Placid is a serious issue, and both cited the proliferation of short-term vacation rentals as a cause.
Devlin said the affordable housing issue “will need to be addressed in the next four years.” He was optimistic about three new housing developments in the works and said officials have been discussing ways to protect neighborhoods from further short-term rental growth in their ongoing review of the village and town’s joint land use code.
Rogers said short-term vacation rentals were not allowed under the current code, set in 2011. Some residents, including Rogers, believe that because “transient rentals” are not listed as a permitted or conditional use in the land use code, short-term rentals weren’t allowed. Devlin disputed this notion multiple times throughout the forum. The village-town Code Enforcement Office has also disputed it multiple times in the past.
Rogers said the village should work with employers to create an employer-assisted housing program and that the village should explore creating a land bank. Land banks can acquire abandoned properties for rehabilitation. There are a limited number of land banks allowed to operate in this state by law, and there’s often competition to secure authorization to create one.
The candidates disagreed on the approach the village should take to the perennial parking issue.
Devlin spoke about potential projects the village has been planning, such as a possible parking structure in the municipal lots across from NBT Bank and a possible parking garage in the large municipal lot across from the post office, both on Main Street. He said funding would be an issue.
Rogers disagreed with putting a parking garage in the large municipal lot but agreed with putting the smaller parking structure across from NBT Bank. He said he’s in favor of putting a parking garage behind the Olympic Center, which the state Olympic Regional Development Authority has explored doing, but it’s not part of the authority’s current renovation plans for the center, underway now.
Rogers added that he believes more money should be put into the village’s public transportation system, which he launched as mayor.
Devlin said he will not leave town for long periods during the winter, as he has as trustee. While away, Devlin joined village board meetings via video conferencing software. Devlin said he would put in “whatever time it takes to get things done properly” if he’s elected mayor.
“The mayor’s job is not a part-time position,” he said.
Devlin added that if he saw an opening when there wasn’t a lot going on, he may leave town for a weekend or a week. He also took a jab at his opponent, noting that Rogers currently has a job. Without that job, Devlin asked if Rogers planned to increase the mayor’s salary if elected because the role only pays a few thousand dollars each year.
Rogers said he wouldn’t change it — at least not in his first term.
“If you’re going to change it, you’ve got to change it after this term,” he said.
Rogers pushed back against a question about fiscal mismanagement during his tenure as mayor.
The state Comptroller’s Office slammed the village in a 2008 audit for using government-issued credit cards for “questionable” purchases — including a $560 golf charge at the Crowne Plaza and $1,440 for food at a retirement party. The audit criticized the village for lacking a credit card policy, lacking proper documentation and for having credit card expenditures of $38,700 between 2005 and 2006 — far higher than the village of Saranac Lake, which had $17,600 in credit card charges at that time.
“The credit card issue, I think, got overblown,” Rogers said. “It did get abused by one department. There’s been no criminal abuse in any of those.”
The audit regarding credit card use was released in 2008. A new credit card policy was adopted under Rogers in response to the audit, before it was released publicly. Rogers lost the election to Craig Randall in 2009.
A second comptroller’s audit was released in 2011, covering a few months of Rogers’ tenure and a few months of Randall’s first year as mayor — recommending criminal charges against the village treasurer. Among other things, including lax fiscal controls by officials such as the mayor, the state comptroller’s office found that several employees collected leave time payments they had not earned. Rogers said he wasn’t able to formally respond to it because he was out of office.
Asked if he would be willing to say no to large-scale events in Lake Placid if the state of the pandemic doesn’t improve by summer, Rogers said he would “follow the science.”
“We have to work on this before Ironman,” he said.
Rogers said he would reach out to event coordinators to find out what their plans are. Events with large groups of spectators who can’t be controlled could be an issue, he noted. With the Lake Placid Horse Shows, he said he would be OK with them if they can follow safety protocols.
Devlin said it would depend on state guidance.
“We’ll all just have to wait and see,” he said. “One time we’re doing well, and the next time we’re not. We’ll do what’s safest for everyone involved.”
Sense of community
Asked if they agreed with the sentiment some residents have expressed about Lake Placid losing its sense of community, both Devlin and Rogers said it hasn’t been lost.
Both noted that the number of short-term vacation rentals throughout the village has cut down on the number of residents living here full-time, but Rogers said second homeowners still “provide a sense of community and volunteerism.” Later he added that he believes there’s a big difference between second homeowners and absentee owners.
Devlin said he believes the trend of vacation rental growth does need to be turned around.
“One thing I don’t want to be is mayor of Disney World and have it be all rentals and big hotels,” said Devlin, a hotel owner himself.
Asked what they would say to people in their 20s coming to Lake Placid who may feel that local government prioritizes businesses and longtime residents over them, Devlin said he didn’t think that was an issue.
“I guess I wasn’t under the impression that younger people coming to Lake Placid thought that big businesses and people living here had priority,” he said. “I just don’t see a problem that young people feel kept out and discriminated against.”
Devlin asked for an example, and Enterprise Managing Editor Peter Crowley noted how difficult it is for a young person who works in the service industry to be able to afford to live in Lake Placid. Devlin said that’s been an issue for decades, and all they can do is try to make it better.
Rogers said bringing back more long-term rentals is the way to start solving this issue, and he noted that a provision put in the code allowing “accessory dwellings” and increased density was intended to open up more apartments. Devlin said that provision didn’t work as planned and ultimately paved the way for more short-term vacation rentals. Rogers reiterated that he believes the code outlawed vacation rentals.
“They don’t make enough money to afford some of these rents as well,” Rogers said of young people. He said part of the responsibility will have to be on big employers.
Rogers said if elected, he wants to change the meeting time for the village board from 5 to 7 p.m., and he thinks the village could improve its COVID-19 updates and transportation updates. He said he’d also like to resume writing a column in the newspaper.
Devlin said changing the meeting time would be cumbersome for the village employees who have to attend those meetings, to leave work at 5 p.m. and come back later.
“I think we’ve done a good job of transparency,” Devlin said, citing the village’s website, Facebook page and newsletter as examples. He said the village is working on a joint website with the town of North Elba, and he has approached town Supervisor Jay Rand about doing a joint newsletter, too. Devlin also noted that the village is working on getting a push notification system online, which would alert residents by email about any upcoming events that may effect them, like a hydrant flushing or power outage.
Rogers noted that the village’s website was brought online while he was mayor.
“I don’t think we’ve been as transparent as we could’ve been,” he said.
Both candidates agreed that protecting Mirror Lake should be a priority, and both cited work of organizations such as the Mirror Lake Watershed Association and AuSable River Association to protect the lake.
Devlin noted that the upcoming Main Street project will include the installation of a stormwater filtration system. The system is expected to be installed in the park at the Saranac Avenue, Mirror Lake Drive, Main Street intersection to capture runoff down the hill before it enters the lake.
Rogers noted that the state Department of Transportation has reduced the amount of road salt it uses on Saranac Avenue.