Time to address the elephant in the room
There’s an elephant roaming around Lake Placid, and it’s long past time for local officials to address it.
For years, there’s been a perception among some residents that wealthy, influential people rule the roost in this village, and that when decisions are made, tourism — or the perception of what visitors want — comes first.
Whether that’s actually the case, we don’t know, but there are reasons why some locals feel that way. Before Lake Placid again welcomes the world in 2023, town and village leaders may want to address this feeling that the community’s successes are coming at the expense of residents.
Throughout the last few years, there have been many debates in Lake Placid surrounding affordable housing, vacation rental regulations and the impacts of large-scale sporting events like Ironman. Underpinning all of them seems to be a soul-searching exercise about the future of this community. People are concerned and rightfully so. Many who grew up here left years ago and can’t come back because they simply can’t afford to live here. The problems aren’t going away; they seem to be getting worse.
Yes, Lake Placid has almost always been a sports town and a tourist destination, but it wasn’t long ago that neighborhoods were filled with families who knew each other. It wasn’t long ago that school enrollment was significantly higher. It wasn’t long ago that the possibility of buying a home and putting down roots was an accessible dream.
Local officials should admit that they haven’t always prioritized public input, as it should’ve been, and that there are residents who feel disillusioned, unheard and alienated.
Moreover, they should face the fact that there are people knocking on Lake Placid’s door — mostly the workers who keep this village’s economy afloat — who want to move here but don’t, either because they can’t afford it or simply because so many long-term rentals have been taken off the market. From hospitality workers to teachers to state employees, the lack of affordable housing continues to keep much of the workforce out of this village and town. It’s been happening for decades. Current efforts to build affordable housing are commendable, but it’s only the start of the solution; there’s much more work to be done.
It’s not possible to please everyone, but it is possible to listen. Take time to mend relationships, communicate better and give everyone ample opportunity to be heard. That’s step one. Step two is trying to actually solve problems instead of deflecting.
We all want to put on a happy face in Lake Placid. It’s good for business, good for promotion. It’s a feel-good town, home of two Winter Olympics in the beautiful Adirondack Park, a great place to visit. But let’s face it, not everyone who works here and is lucky enough to live here feels good right now.
A few ideas for the town and village: Try hosting something akin to Harrietstown Supervisor Jordanna Mallach’s weekly office hours, and carve out a specific date and time for residents to come to the town hall and know they can talk face-to-face with elected officials about their ideas or concerns. Explore establishing a housing fund — maybe using a portion of occupancy tax revenue, largely collected from tourists — to help developers construct new affordable housing. Look at ways to incentivize landlords to keep their properties for long-term rental use, whether that be in the form of a tax credit or something else. Ask the Lake Placid-North Elba Community Development Commission to invite more people to join its Housing Committee; maybe there are people out in the community who have ideas and more expertise to share.
Most important is making sure that residents can feel heard and feel ownership of the community they’ve chosen to live their lives in.