Aubuchon presents plans to rebuild

Employees with JEDA Environmental Services — Steven DeShane in back, Mike Shirley with the hose and Scott Reynolds operating the excavator — tear down the former site of CED Electric, ADK Solar and MC Construction at the Saranac Lake Aubuchon Hardware plaza in August. After a fire burned the buildings in January, 2023, the hardware store is preparing to rebuild at the site. (Enterprise photo — Aaron Marbone)

SARANAC LAKE — Aubuchon Hardware’s plans to rebuild its plaza on Broadway that was destroyed in a catastrophic fire more than a year ago are nearing a vote from the Saranac Lake village Development Board, but for now, the board is waiting for consultants to finish reviewing engineering plans.

Board members are potentially scheduling a special meeting later this month to vote on approving the building’s site plan review. Although most board members said they are comfortable with the plan they saw on Tuesday, and some wanted to vote on it that night, they agreed to table it until LaBella Associates, an engineering firm the village is contracting with, finishes reviewing a stormwater plan.

If this plan comes back with no major changes, they’ll schedule a meeting to expedite the site plan approval before their next meeting in March. Board members said they don’t want Aubuchon to reconsider reopening here. It’s already been a long process to get to this point.

Michael Sambuceti, a development manager for Aubuchon Realty Company, said they are “grateful” for this accommodation.

“It would save us, potentially, a few weeks,” he said. “They’ve been very good to work with. It’s been a challenging project.”

Aubuchon owns the plaza, which included its store and a former connected building housing CED Electric, ADK Solar and MC Construction.

In January 2023, a fire broke out in a furnace at the electrical companies’ building. The fire shot flames into the sky, and 13 fire departments from three counties fought it. The cause was deemed accidental. The electric company building was completely demolished this summer, as the structure was not able to be salvaged. The hardware store’s side of the plaza was less damaged in the fire and was expected to be saved earlier on, but Sambuceti said that portion was deemed not structurally sound enough and will be torn down in the spring.

The proposed building will be slightly smaller than the previous one.

Caryn Mlodzianowski from Bohler Engineering said the building would be 25,900 square feet in total with Aubuchon taking 14,450 square feet and another tenant taking 10,640 square feet. The two storefronts would also swap sides, with Aubuchon on the left end of the complex, instead of the right. The businesses would have 54 parking spaces.

Sambuceti said he has not found a tenant for the other portion of the building yet, but said it will be some sort of dry goods store.

Mlodzianowski asked for conditional approval on Tuesday, saying they’d rather not wait until the March meeting. But there is still a Stormwater Pollution Prevention Plan, also known as a SWPPP, that is pending review.

Saranac Lake Village Community Development Director Katrina Glynn said the SWPPP could be finished in mid-February but there is no hard date for it to come in.

Development Board member Bill Domenico asked if the board could hold a second February meeting to expedite things. If the SWPPP review comes back and it’s simple they could pass it in a special meeting. If not, then they could look at it in March.

After the SWPPP report comes in, Glynn said the village will review it and put out a notice for a special meeting, if one is warranted. She said notices of meetings must be made at least 10 days in advance.

Franklin County needs to approve the plan because the site is close to one of their roads. This approval is expected in early March, Glynn said.

The next scheduled Development Board meeting is on March 5.

Development Board Chair Allie Pelletieri said the new building plan is an improvement on the old building. The original proposed plans did not meet their standards, but Aubuchon altered it and improved it.

Development Board member Rick Weber said he felt “comfortable” with the site plan. Domenico said it was an “excellent project.”

Weber wanted to wait for Matt Rogers from Labella Associates to finish reviewing the SWPPP.

“I’m going to go with what Matt says,” Pelletieri said. “That’s what we hire him to do.”

They want to get the project done, while also respecting Rogers’ work, insight and input.

Development Board member Tim Jackson wondered how much could change based on Rogers’ assessment of this plan. He suggested approving the site plan with conditions that it would be permitted, unless there were any major changes in the stormwater plan. But the board chose not to do this

Development Board member Meg Cantwell-Jackson asked how long they were going to “drag this out.”

“I just feel like they’re going to lose interest in this town,” she said.

Sambuceti said he had a meeting with Aubuchon’s CEO several weeks ago.

“With their time out of the market, they are reevaluating reentering,” Sambuceti said. “I’m not saying that they’re walking away from it right now. But they are actively looking at, ‘We’ve been out for a year, what’s it like coming back.'”

Pelletieri said he doesn’t want to set a precedent for the board to consider applicants’ timelines so much, saying that sort of pressure could be abused.

Weber said there have been many changes to the project that were not caused by the board. Aubuchon initially tried to keep more of the building, but had to change its plans. It has taken a lot of time, Weer said, but was not their doing. Sambuceti agreed the board is not slowing it down.

He told the Enterprise the company started talking with the development board in September and things ramped up in December.

Aubuchon initially planned another access route on Cedar Street, but neighbors and the board were concerned about traffic safety, so they cut it.

Two members of the public attended the public hearing because they were worried about this entrance. After saying they were glad it was not included, they did not have any other comment. The public hearing was closed.

People will be able to speak at the special meeting later this month, and their comments can be considered by the board, but the official public hearing is closed.

Board members asked lots of questions about the visuals and small details of the plan and made several “special asks” — not conditions for the permit, but requests from individual board members stating their preferences for how the property looks and what it is used for.

“Everybody here in town is waiting for you to open,” Pelletieri said.

Sambuceti said the hardware store could potentially reopen by November.

“Once we’re ready, we’re going to fly,” he said. “It’s not a complicated build.”


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