Keep the momentum going for our kids

The successful passage of the Saranac Lake Central School District budget — including all proposals — and the re-election of every incumbent on the board is something our community should be proud of. I am. Strong, cohesive leadership by administrators, teachers, coaches, staff and the board has placed our district on steady ground.

As a 21-year homeowner in the village of Saranac Lake and parent of two children, I firmly believe our district, and the community that supports it, is one of the best around. Just ask my family in Michigan, they will tell you I happy-brag way too much.

Now, it’s time to take our enthusiasm and momentum forward to continue to do more for our kids. It’s time for the community of Saranac Lake to address the challenge of declining enrollment head on and decide to make a genuine effort to reverse the trend. It’s time to strategically throw everything we collectively can at the issue of housing and examine all possibilities and options to build, and make available more affordable homes for year-round residents. It’s not an easy challenge by any means, but there are low hurdles we can leap in order to start the process. The first of which is identifying and securing land.

Fortunately for Saranac Lake, that has already happened. Serendipitously, it is a large, buildable property within a short walk to our elementary, middle and high schools. No vehicle or bus needed. There is no property of the size, scale and proximity to schools and services than 33 Petrova Ave. and there likely never will be again. At 15 acres, it is five times the size of the Fawn Valley project in Lake Placid, where Homestead Development Corp. has built six single family homes and 16 townhouses in four buildings. Each resident of which lives and works full-time in the community, pays school and property taxes, shops and volunteers locally. Eight of the townhome units have been set aside for employees of the Lake Placid Central School District and Adirondack Health.

I spoke to Steve Sama, president of Homestead Development Corp., and asked him what the biggest challenge would be for a community like Saranac Lake to start a similar model. His answer was simple and straightforward — “land and support,” he said, “without both, you don’t have a project.”

I firmly believe Saranac Lake has both and that we, as a community, must genuinely try to examine the potential of making it happen at 33 Petrova Ave. Yes, our community 100% needs improved emergency services and that will involve constructing new buildings and modifying existing ones. The support is already there and so is the land, but right now, only one option is being examined and that one option is being solely structured, arranged and planned based on a 76,000-square-foot building that was built in the 1950s as St. Pius X school.

Why anchor what is possible to a really old, oddly configured building in the heart of our school district (because it was constructed to be a school with kids in it) that will only cost, both in the build, and in perpetuity for utilities and upkeep?

Could a right-sized combined fire and rescue building be constructed elsewhere in the village? If the Adirondack Park Agency relocates to 3 Main St., could the Saranac Lake Police Department stay visibly in the center of downtown by retrofitting the existing fire department? What’s up with the empty armory with direct access to Route 3? Could a right-sized fire and rescue facility be built there, or at 33 Petrova without the constraints of St. Pius X? If so, how many acres of land would that leave for a residential housing development similar to Fawn Valley? Perhaps the units could even be earmarked for emergency services staff and volunteers, like Homestead Development Corp. has done for school and hospital staff?

We have to try.

Fact is, school enrollment is declining because those who want to lay down roots and start a family can’t afford a home. I am beyond thrilled that 70 apartment units will be available for rent on Depot Street in the near future, but where do those 20-somethings go when their apartment is too small for their young family or they want to invest in a home in order to be better positioned to grow personally and financially? Right now, that family moves away and sends their kids to school somewhere else. Or doesn’t move here at all.

It’s not up to the 20-somethings to change that. It’s up to those of us who already own a home, and try to do everything we can to support our community. Fighting as passionately as we did for passage of the school budget and its proposals is exactly what needs to happen for housing if we want to keep our schools strong.

This is my appeal to you, my friends and neighbors, to please consider taking that next step to fight for our schools by signing this petition: www.change.org/p/study-33-petrova-for-residential-development. It asks our Saranac Lake Village Board of Trustees to genuinely try.

Let’s do this for our kids too. I have no idea if my children will want to live in Saranac Lake and start a family of their own, but I would like them, and your kids, to have the option.

— — —

Doug Haney lives in Saranac Lake.


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