Village, AMA make pitch for annexation into Saranac Lake

SARANAC LAKE – Village officials and American Management Association representatives testified on the potential benefits of annexing AMA’s 63-acre campus into the village at a formal public hearing Wednesday.

Much of the benefit hinges on the prospect of developing unused portions of the AMA property, which supporters of annexation say could help stabilize the nonprofit management education company and its 150 local employees, and provide new tax revenue for the village, the town of St. Armand, the Saranac Lake Central School District and Essex County. AMA representatives admitted they could develop the property without being annexed, but they said being in the village would be more beneficial.

Manny Avramidis, AMA’s senior vice president of global human resources, was the only employee of the company to testify during the more than two-hour-long hearing in the Harrietstown Town Hall auditorium. He said the benefits of annexation would include village police protection and the ability to work with the village’s community development office to develop portions of the property.

“That potential development will not only improve tax revenue for the town and village, but it will also provide for a vibrant and stable community for our workforce,” Avramidis said.

The LA Group’s Kevin Franke testified that as many as 29 lots for single-family homes could be created on portions of the AMA property, primarily west of AMA Way. He described it as a “very conceptual” plan and “one potential among literally hundreds.”

Michael Varley, an Ogdensburg appraiser hired by AMA, said the 29 hypothetical lots could generate $35,000 in total annual tax revenue for all the municipalities. He also surveyed house sales in the market and found the median price was $226,000. If homes of that value were built on each lot, it would generate $6 million in assessed value, creating $171,000 in tax revenue for the municipalities, Varley said.

Franke noted that there is no zoning in the town of St. Armand, meaning land-use regulation on the AMA property would currently fall to the state Adirondack Park Agency. Since the campus is classified as “hamlet” under APA guidelines, there are no restrictions on the types or density of uses that could be developed on the property, Franke said.

“For instance, to bring things to an extreme, there could be a tar shingle manufacturing plant on the property, or a discotheque?” asked village Mayor Clyde Rabideau. “All these things could be there because there’s no zoning?”

“Correct,” Franke said.

If annexation occurs, AMA plans to ask the village to create a planned unit development for the property, which Franke and village representatives testified would require review by the village’s Board of Trustees and its Planning Board, and include opportunities for public input.

Village Manager John Sweeney testified that any new development on the AMA campus could not receive village water and sewer services unless it’s annexed into the village, under a local law the village board approved in 2010. The village also couldn’t provide planning, economic development or grant-writing assistance to AMA unless it’s annexed, village Community Development Director Jeremy Evans testified.

Town of St. Armand officials and their lawyer, Matthew Norfolk, quizzed several of the AMA and village witnesses about what impact annexation would have on a payment-in-lieu-of-taxes (PILOT) agreement between AMA, which is tax-exempt, and the town, school district and the county.

Bill Kissel, AMA’s local attorney, said the PILOT is a court-ordered stipulation.

“Annexation of the property into the village would not, could not, in and of itself, affect the PILOT,” Kissel said.

St. Armand officials also asked several times about the prospects of the village becoming a city, as was suggested several years ago. If that happened, St. Armand would no longer extend inside the village and the town could lose out on potential property tax revenue if parts of AMA’s property get developed.

Rabideau testified that the city idea was pursued by a volunteer government restructuring committee but has been abandoned by the village due to a lack of political support.

“This is way beyond the realm of any kind of plausibility in New York state at the present time and in the foreseeable future,” Rabideau said. “It’s just not going to happen.”

Only three people spoke during the public comment portion of the hearing. St. Armand resident Sandy Hayes asked if the village would seek a PILOT with AMA that could take funds away from the town’s PILOT.

Sweeney said the village has reserved the right to ask for a PILOT, but AMA has made no guarantees it would agree to provide one. Kissel reaffirmed that St. Armand’s PILOT “will not be affected if annexation occurs.”

Park Avenue residents Steve Hahn and Mark Hofschneider asked about the impacts of adding 29 new lots of single-family housing to the local real estate market.

“The concern is when you drive around in the village and see empty houses with the siding rotting on them that no one lives in,” Hahn said. “Maybe we should be spending our efforts on trying to find grants to fix up and get these places back on the market and for sale.”

“My concern is there’s going to be an over-abundance of vacant lots,” Hofschneider said. “Are there steps going to be taken so that we don’t flood the market with available land and decrease the value of the homes and properties throughout the town?”

The village and town boards now have 90 days to make a decision on the proposed annexation. They have to determine whether AMA’s annexation petition complies with the law and whether annexation is in the overall public interest.

The village board will undoubtedly vote in favor of annexation. St. Armand officials haven’t formally weighed in on the matter yet, although Supervisor Charlie Whitson said during a break in the hearing that he didn’t see any big hurdles.

“I don’t think there’s going to be any broken spokes in the wheel or enormous bumps in the road,” he said. “I think things will be handled and, in the end, worked out in a very congenial fashion.”