St. Armand board backs AMA annexation

BLOOMINGDALE – The annexation of the American Management Association campus into the village of Saranac Lake looks like a done deal after most of the five St. Armand town board members voiced strong support for it at a Wednesday night public hearing.

“I’d say there are four votes right now in favor,” said Supervisor Charles Whitson Jr. “I haven’t had any negative conversations with anybody pertaining to this annexation.”

“I’ve researched it, and I don’t see any negative impact that it would have,” said Councilwoman Jennifer Fuller, who was appointed to a vacant town board seat last month. “From what I can see, it would be a positive for the town and the village.”

Councilmen Sam Grimone and Donald Amell, both of whom are AMA employees, also voiced support for annexation. Both men had previously told the Enterprise that they wouldn’t abstain from the issue because they feel they can approach it with an open mind and without any bias.

“I can see no real threat of negative repercussions to the town,” Grimone said Wednesday. “Personally, I’m for it. I think it could be a big plus for the town as well as the village, and certainly AMA wouldn’t have requested it if they didn’t think it could be a plus for them.”

“I don’t see a downside to any of the parties involved,” Amell said.

Councilman Earl “Jimmy” Dakin was absent from Wednesday’s meeting.

While an official vote of the town board won’t be taken until next month, it may be just a formality.

Annexation also must be approved by the village Board of Trustees, which has been pushing for it for months. Mayor Clyde Rabideau said this morning that his board had been waiting for St. Armand to take its vote first. Since the town’s next regular board meeting isn’t until April 9, which is roughly two weeks before the deadline for both governments to make a decision, Rabideau said the village board vote will happen sooner, possibly at its March 25 meeting.

“We had wanted to give them the courtesy of letting them vote first, but they did have their public hearing and we’re grateful they feel positive about it,” Rabideau said. “We all look forward to working with them in partnership to help put AMA on the tax rolls and help it grow.”

Since the AMA property is currently tax exempt, the potential benefit of annexation to the town and the village hinges largely on the company’s plan to develop unused portions of its campus. At a public hearing in January, AMA representatives said as many as 29 lots for single-family homes could be created on portions of the AMA property, generating property tax revenue for the town, village, Saranac Lake Central School District and Essex County.

In addition to the potential tax benefits, supporters of annexation have said developing the AMA campus will help stabilize the nonprofit management education company and its 150 local employees. AMA representatives have admitted they could develop the property without being annexed, but they have said being in the village would be more beneficial. They’ve also promised to continue making payments in lieu of taxes to the town, school district and county.

Only three members of the audience spoke during Wednesday night’s public hearing, held in the St. Armand Town Hall in Bloomingdale.

Bucky and Connie Willette, who live on state Route 3 downhill from AMA, said they support annexation and believe it will improve both the town and village tax base over time; however, they said they’ve had occasional problems with stormwater draining from the AMA campus onto their property. If AMA’s property is further developed, they feared they could see more runoff and asked what measures would be taken to control stormwater flows.

Bill Kissel, AMA’s local attorney, said any additional development would require permits from the village and potentially the state Adirondack Park Agency, and stormwater runoff would need to be addressed during that review. He also said AMA would work with the Willettes to try and resolve the current drainage problems.

St. Armand developer and real estate agent Sandy Hayes said he supports annexation, but wondered whether the company’s plan to develop its property is realistic.

“I don’t see how St. Armand can lose,” he said. “I’m not sure the proposal for that development is that possible of happening. If it does, it’s a plus. If it doesn’t, we haven’t lost anything, so I think it’s fine.”

Asked after the meeting how soon AMA will advance its development plan, Kissel said the company will first ask the village to rezone the property as a planned unit development. Beyond that, he deferred the Enterprise’s questions to top AMA officials, who were not present for Wednesday’s hearing.

Contact Chris Knight at 891-2600 ext. 24 or