SARANAC LAKE - The village planning board still isn't ready to render a decision on Cedar Ridge Holdings and North Country Community College's proposed Lake Flower Avenue Welcome Center, but it's getting closer.
Following two more hours of discussion Wednesday night, some planning board members said they felt they were nearing an "approvable" project. However, some thorny issues remain, including concerns about the parking plan for the Welcome Center and questions about whether the 4,200-square-foot office building fits into the area's largely residential neighborhood.
The board scheduled a special meeting at 7 p.m. Sept. 3 to continue its review and invited the two key players in the project to be there: NCCC President Steve Tyrell, who's been at most of the prior meetings but wasn't in attendance Wednesday night, and Cedar Ridge owner Clyde Rabideau, who's also the village's mayor.
Susan Rdzanek of Cedar Ridge Holdings goes over the site plan for the proposed North Country Community College Welcome Center on Lake Flower Avenue in Saranac Lake at Wednesday night’s village planning board meeting.
(Enterprise photo — Chris Knight)
Rabideau hasn't attended any public meetings on the project because he's said he doesn't want to create any appearance of a conflict of interest. Susan Rdzanek has been representing Cedar Ridge, which is under contract to buy the two properties where the Welcome Center would be built.
Planning board members said not being able to work directly with Rabideau has hampered their review.
"I've been feeling like the problem is we have a disconnect, and I think you're doing your best to bridge that," planning board Chairwoman Leslie Karasin told Rdzanek, "but in getting to a solution that everybody can agree on, it helps to have everyone in the room at the same time."
"We don't want him here as the mayor, if that's the concern," added board member Molly Hann. "This has nothing to do with his political role. We want him here as the applicant for this project and the potential landowner."
Rdzanek opened Wednesday's discussion by outlining changes to the project since the board's last meeting. At the request of the board, she said the parking was dispersed more on the property. Instead of 13 parking spaces in front of the building, there are now 10. Three new spots were added on the side of the road that cuts through the property from Lake Flower Avenue to Santanoni Avenue.
Some additional trees had been added to the site, and the two-story Welcome Center building was moved forward 10 feet at the request of Frannie Preston, a neighboring property owner.
During a public hearing, Preston said several large trees that would be planted next to the building would block her view. She asked if they could be replaced with a hedge or lower-to-the-ground plantings. She also asked for several proposed light poles to be replaced with light fixtures that would be lower to the ground.
Santanoni Avenue resident Anthony Hayden raised broader questions about whether the project fits in with the guidelines of the village's recently adopted comprehensive plan. He noted that one of the two properties Cedar Ridge is under contract to buy, currently owned by the Duffy family, is zoned "C," where the primary planning strategy is maintaining the residential character of the neighborhood.
"I'm wondering how paving over a residential lot is consistent with the zoning and the strategy of the comprehensive plan, because it neither maintains the residential character of the neighborhood nor creates a buffer for it," he said.
Hayden also said the proposal is inconsistent with a master plan developed for the college several years ago, which called for a renovated College Hall, at the top of Winona Avenue, to be used as the entry point and welcome center to the campus.
"For some reason it seems like (the master plan) is being cast aside," Hayden said. "I understand there's three lots available and the college wants to expand, but this is a plan of convenience, not of careful planning."
The parking plan for the Welcome Center was discussed at length. The 13 parking spaces proposed are less than the 21 the building is required to have as an institutional-use structure. The college has said it would provide off-site parking up the hill on its campus and work with the village to install a sidewalk down Santanoni Avenue to the Welcome Center, which would house the college's admission, financial aid, registration and bursar's offices.
But questions were raised Wednesday night about whether students and staff would actually walk down to the Welcome Center or if they'd drive there, creating parking problems on the site.
As the discussion wrapped up, Rdzanek asked if there was a chance of a conditional approval.
"Our options are pretty much up at the end of the month, so Clyde was hoping for something to move forward at this meeting," she said.
Hann said she didn't want to be pushed into making a decision too soon.
"Eventually we're going to get to an approvable project, but I don't like the time constraint that seems to be hanging over us from the applicant's standpoint," she said. "I'm not going to make a decision because there's pressure."
"I think the sentiment of this board is there are too many issues that would need to be conditioned to make it comfortable to do a conditional approval at this time," Karasin said.
The biggest remaining issue, Karasin said, is whether the building fits in with the residential character of zoning district C.
"In my opinion, everything else that's on the table can be worked out with time, and that's the one thing where we could rightly say this is not an approvable project," Karasin said.
Village Community Development Director Jeremy Evans said the board will have to find a way to balance the college's needs with maintaining the integrity of the residential area.
Contact Chris Knight at 891-2600 ext. 24 or firstname.lastname@example.org.