Co-op makes case before concerned neighbors
LAKE PLACID — The interim board of an as-yet-unnamed Lake Placid housing cooperative fielded questions from a standing room only crowd at the Mirror Lake Beach House on Sunday afternoon.
The board’s goal for the meeting was to recruit more members for the co-op. With its current seven member households, the co-op needs 18 more households on board to reach its goal of 25 households. While potential members were in attendance, neighbors of the 100-acre plot where the co-op is slated to be built filled the room with questions and concerns about its impact on the character of the neighborhood and potential disruption of traffic.
Nonprofits Adirondack North Country Association and Cooperative Development Institute, which helped Jay-based company Ward Lumber transition to a cooperative model in 2021, have been helping the co-op board navigate the project. ANCA was the recipient of the land donation 18 months ago.
The co-op does not yet have a site plan that includes an amount or density of housing, though board president David Genito said that the co-op is shooting for 25 households. The board is currently waiting on the results of a boundary survey, which they should have in the next few weeks, before moving forward with a plan. The site is partially zoned as wetland, hamlet and low-density use by the Adirondack Park Agency. The homes would only be built on the 12-acre part zoned as hamlet, while the low-density use and wetland areas would be preserved as “forever wild,” as per the wishes of the anonymous donor of the land. The location and amount of access points are also undetermined.
ANCA Entrepreneurial Program Director Danielle Delaini said that the project is by locals, for locals.
“Most of the folks showing up to the table are people who are already your neighbors who want to ensure that they can stay in the region. It’s really focused on affordable housing for people who work here, live here: Your nurses, your doctors, your teachers,” Delaini said. “It’s not closed by any means to anyone who is interested in being a part and putting in the work and effort and time and love and patience into this project.”
ANCA Executive Director Elizabeth Cooper said that the housing crisis in the region has reached a “critical need.”
“When we work with businesses, we hear over and over and over again: ‘We can’t get workers.’ That is a critical issue,” she said. “And why can’t they get workers? One of the first things they cite is housing.”
Marc Doering, who co-owns Experience Outdoors in Lake Placid, said that he has seen this problem firsthand. However, he also expressed concern about further development in his neighborhood.
“It’s a big problem because no one can get a place to live,” he said. “But, I also live on Patch Lane, I own a house there, and I know none of the residents on our street want another big subdivision being put in with a main road or access point off of Patch Lane. We want a community back there or just, like, something. It’s going to happen regardless, but a lot of us don’t want our community to be disrupted and, I don’t want to say ruined, but disrupted by another community. We already have a very nice area.”
“I’m sure there’s a conversation to be had, but I don’t think anyone on Patch Lane is going to be for (the co-op),” he added.
Martha Pritchard Spear, the interim co-op board’s vice president, said that the board is considering creating an advisory board of neighbors and non-members to guide the co-op in its role in the larger Lake Placid community. Non-members cannot be a member of the co-op board itself, as the co-op is member-operated.
A member-owned co-op is also member-directed. In response to concerns that the co-op would impose unusual rules on members’ lifestyles and landscaping, Pritchard Spear said that rules and expectations for the community will be created democratically by members, like all decisions in a co-op. Likewise, because this project is being built from the ground up, members who join early will be able to participate in decisions such as the design and layout of the community and the use of the “forever wild” land.
The co-op will likely be a limited-equity co-op, as its goal is affordability. In a limited equity cooperative, there are restrictions on a share’s sale price, ensuring that housing will be affordable in the long term. Co-ops work differently than the regular buying-and-selling housing market. Members buy a share in the co-op and pay a monthly amount — called a carrying charge or maintenance fee — to cover operating expenses, which can include a mortgage on the land or homes. The mortgage is taken out by the corporation, not by individual members. This co-op will be operated at-cost. This means that nobody will profit from the carrying charge, which often makes the cost of living affordable in the long-term for members.
Currently, the co-op’s pre-development costs — including staff time from ANCA and CDI — are covered by the anonymous donor and grants. When the co-op moves into the development phase, they will look into financing options from cooperative financing lenders.
Prospective members concerned with affording to live in Lake Placid see the intentional affordability of the community as a boon.
“I was born and raised in Lake Placid and, sadly, as most of you who are here as prospective members — not the neighbors that are concerned about impinging on their traffic issues and things like that — I cannot afford to live in my hometown because I have been priced out,” said Rebecca Wolford, a prospective member of the co-op and resident of Saranac Lake.
Wolford added that concerned neighbors of the 100-acre plot should consider the goals of the project and the backgrounds of members.
“I commute here every day to work here … and so I understand that you have concerns as neighbors, but I would passionately encourage you to either join the advisory board or in some way assist us in making (the co-op) so that this cooperative can work for the future for many of the people that I know are in this room (who) would like to work and live in Lake Placid,” she said. “It is really a challenge to want to be able to live in your hometown and just not be able to. This, to me, would be a blessing to be able to reside here.”