Neighbors decry condos as town mulls rezoning
LAKE PLACID — Neighbors and concerned community members packed the North Elba Town Council meeting on Tuesday to voice their concerns about a rezoning request that would pave the way for the construction of a new set of condominiums on the shore of Lake Placid.
The North Elba Town Council wasn’t scheduled to take a vote on the request that night, and ultimately did not take a vote, but neighbors and residents spoke during the regularly scheduled public comment period to express their opposition to the proposal ahead of an upcoming vote by the council.
Rich Kroes and Katrina Lussi Kroes of Lake Placid, through Lake Placid Marina Corp. LLC, first submitted the request to rezone a 3.69-acre tract of land located on George and Bliss Lane and Mirror Lake Drive on May 24. They intend to build two condominium structures on the land — a larger structure with 18 units, located approximately where the building that houses Helping Hands Thrift Store currently sits, and a smaller structure along Mirror Lake Drive that would house six additional units. This condominium project would conflict with the tract’s current residential zoning. The tract includes three parcels, all of which are zoned differently. The Kroes’ request would change the zoning of all three parcels to “Planned Development District,” giving them more flexible setback requirements, a taller maximum building heights and the ability to build condominiums instead of single-family homes.
Neighbors and community members told the town council on Tuesday that they had concerns about the condominium project obstructing views of the lake and putting a further strain on parking near the marina.
The residents’ comments come nearly two months after a meeting of the North Elba-Lake Placid Joint Review Board in August, when that board — following an extended debate — voted to recommend that the town council approve the rezoning request, with some caveats.
The review board’s recommendation has been passed on to the Lake Placid Village Board of Trustees and the North Elba Town Council, which will make the final decision on whether or not rezone the tract. The state Adirondack Park Agency could take jurisdiction over the project because it’s on the water, adding another layer of review.
The town council did not vote Tuesday, but did agree that they would make a decision on the rezoning by November. According to Lake Placid Mayor Art Devlin, the Lake Placid Village Board intends to wait until after the town council has made their decision to put the rezoning discussion on their agenda. This is because North Elba’s portion of the tract is significantly larger than Lake Placid’s.
Peter Foland, who owns a condominium directly adjacent to the tract in question, expressed concerns about the height of the building and its potential to block other residents’ views of Lake Placid as well as the amount of planned parking for the condominium structures.
Former town attorney Ron Briggs, speaking as a community member, asked the board to first assess if the town and village infrastructure can support this project before approving it. He also asked the board to modify the land use code “so it produces a full plan” for planned development districts, eliminating the lack of information board members have expressed concern about.
“If you create a (planned development district), you lose control of this project completely,” Briggs said.
Roger Smith, whose property neighbors the tract, said the impact of a condominium project next door would be “extreme,” citing other projects that have taken place on the property over the years.
“This is happening on the heels of very significant development that has gone on over the years at the marina,” he said. “The number of boat slips has increased dramatically. We used to have wide open water in front of us, and now we have what is at least 100-, maybe 200-foot-long, strip of boat slips which we look right out onto the roof.”
Lake Placid resident Bill Hurley, a former 22-year member of the review board and past review board chairman, also voiced opposition to the rezoning. Hurley said the marina’s current residential zoning is not an issue to the operation of the marina.
“My business is a nonconforming, pre-existing business, just like the marina,” he said. “According to the land use code, this does not limit my growth, their growth. They’ve gotten more slips (while) not being zoned commercial. So, the zoning issue being residential is not an issue to the operation of the marina whatsoever. So, their quote of ‘We’re not zoned correctly’ means they want condos and they’re only designed for duplexes or single-family homes.
“My business, I can’t do anything with. I can’t change it. I have to meet whatever the zoning is. So does every other business. If you want to change your business, you have to meet the zone. So, that argument, to me, is a moot point.”
Hurley said that, though the Kroes’ application did provide all requisite information, they also have had the opportunity to provide the additional information in which the town board and review board have repeatedly expressed interest. They have not taken this opportunity, however. He said that the town council has the right to make their decision based only on the information that has been provided to them, since it is seemingly all the developers are willing to provide.
Developer Rich Kroes asked what the best approach to zoning compliance was for Lake Placid Marina Corp.
“Is the best avenue to sue the town to go back and revisit the rezoning that was done 10 years ago and argue that devalued the rights and the value of the property owner?” he said. “Is there another mechanism to do that? Because I think it’s not fair for us to try to optimize the use of a commercial area while having to abide by a residential zoning.
“Is there a better avenue? … Or do we just lay down our arms and say, you know, this should be residential, we’ll close the marina, we’ll get rid of the parking and we’ll sell three single-family homes. I mean, if that’s the answer, that’s fine too — if that’s what the town wants. That’s obviously what’s on the table right now.”
Smith disagreed with Kroes’ claim that the property’s current zoning has resulted in devaluation.
“I think in terms of monetizing this property, the current owners have certainly done that to a very significant degree and I don’t think it’s quite fair to say that they’re in a tough position and being held back from being able to monetize their property,” Smith said.
At a joint public hearing with the Lake Placid Village Board of Trustees and North Elba Town Council in July, neighbors voiced opposition to this rezoning request for a variety of reasons. They cited concerns about obstructed views of Lake Placid due to the proposed project’s height and worried that the project would negatively impact the neighborhood.
The Lake Placid-North Elba Review Board recommended that the rezoning request be approved on Aug. 16, following an extended debate and subsequent 6-1 vote in favor of the rezoning. The board’s recommendation came with stipulations, including proposed setbacks, which are the distance a building is required to be from a street or neighbor. The board recommended a 50-foot setback from the lake; a 75-foot setback from the center of Mirror Lake Drive, which borders the tract to the south; and a 20-foot setback from the property line on all other sides of the tract.
The rezoning request was on the North Elba Town Council’s agenda Tuesday under “new business,” and garnered a meeting packed with neighbors looking to express their reservations about the project.
Before inviting public comments, the town council shared their initial feelings on the rezoning.
Town Supervisor Derek Doty said that he has “battled on both sides of this issue” and “fully recognize(s) owner’s rights.” However, he had reservations about how condos are assessed for property taxes. In New York, condos are taxed at a lower rate than other homes. He also said that he had hoped the property would be developed into something open to the public rather than private and residential, in keeping with the property’s history of housing public amenities such as a marina, a movie theater and shops.
“Have I made up my mind? No, I haven’t,” Doty said. “But I will tell you, I lean toward leaving it zoned like it is. I’m not sure I like any combination of a planned development. But I haven’t crossed it off my list, either. … This won’t be an easy decision.”
Council member Jason Leon said that he is against the project, based on the concerns Doty mentioned as well as a concern about increased traffic along Mirror Lake Drive.
“It seems overwhelmingly the majority of the public doesn’t want it,” Leon said. “Until something else changes, I can’t say I support the change.”
Council member Dick Cummings said that he is “leaning toward leaving it the way it is” based on public feedback. Council member Rick Preston agreed.
Council member Emily Kilburn Politi said that the process for creating a planned development district “needs work.”
“I think everyone feels like we don’t have enough information, but in fairness to the applicant, they’ve done everything that they should,” she said.
Politi suggested revising the land use code in future to require a more comprehensive application for planned development districts, citing council members’ desire for more information about the project despite the fact that the Kroes’ application did include all requisite information.
She also said that the property is improperly zoned for its current use, not just for future developments. The tract is split into three different zones. One portion is zoned “South Lake Residential” (in the town of North Elba, outside of the village), another “Village Residential” (inside village boundaries) and another “Shoreland Overlay” (any land or property within 100 feet of the shoreline of any lake, pond or river within the town or village). However, the marina is not a residence but rather a commercial enterprise.
“This property is an existing marina with parking lots and commercial buildings and it’s zoned South Lake (Residential). I mean, that is the wrong zoning,” she said. “(Captain Marney’s Boat Rental) is zoned Town Residential. And so we only have two marinas and they’re both zoned residentially. So I think there’s a bigger problem here that needs to be addressed and I’m going to leave it at that. And so if the applicant so chose to follow the existing zoning, they would put three single-family homes there and there would be no parking and no marina.”