Planning board to review Lake Flower hotel project

SARANAC LAKE – The village Planning Board will get first crack at a Malone developer’s plan to build a five-story hotel on Lake Flower.

Meanwhile, Franklin County legislators are throwing their support behind the project.

The planning board has scheduled a pre-application conference at 7 p.m. Wednesday in the village offices with Lake Flower Lodging, a company formed by developer Chris LaBarge. It comes the day before LaBarge is set to meet with the village Zoning Board of Appeals.

Details of the $15 million to $18 million hotel project, one of the biggest development proposals the village has seen in years, were announced at a press conference last week. LaBarge is under contract to buy three Lake Flower Avenue motels – the Lake Flower Inn, the Adirondack Motel and the Lake Side Motel. They would be demolished and replaced with a five-story, 90-room, high-end hotel with a 200-person banquet and meeting facility, a spa, indoor-outdoor pools and a small, high-end restaurant. A separate building on the water’s edge would house another restaurant and bar, and docks would be put along the shoreline for up to 30 boats.

Village Community Development Director Jeremy Evans said Wednesday’s pre-application conference is an opportunity for the planning board to get an informal overview of the project and provide some preliminary feedback to LaBarge. Evans said he’s expecting LaBarge to submit a formal application very soon.

“The applicant really wanted to get in front of the board, sooner rather than later, and the fact that it’s the day before the zoning board (meeting) happened because of planning board member availability,” Evans said.

Although the conference will not include a formal public hearing, which will come later in the review process, Evans said there may be an opportunity for public comment.

“I would defer to (Planning Board Chairwoman) Leslie (Karasin) on that, but usually the board does allow public comment,” he said. “That has to be prefaced with the fact that there’s not going to be a lot of detail, so it’s going to have to be limited to the overall aspects of the project. For example, we can’t have specific conversations about what kinds of plants would be used for landscaping because we’re not at that point yet. But the board is usually pretty accommodating for public comment.”

Thursday’s meeting of the ZBA, scheduled for 5:30 p.m. in the village offices, will include a formal public hearing on a series of land-use code variances LaBarge has requested for the project.

A height variance is needed for the hotel because the building would be taller than the two-story maximum height permitted in the area’s B2 zoning district. The number of parking spaces proposed, 105, is less than the 146 that would be required for the project under the village code, and the size of those parking spaces is less than permitted. LaBarge has also requested two setback variances. The building would be closer to the road and the lake than allowed under the code.

LaBarge has said the project will not be “economically viable” without the variances. He said last week that he hopes to get all the necessary approvals in the next six months and begin construction in the spring.

The project will also need a permit from the state Adirondack Park Agency, which has jurisdiction because the hotel would be more than 40 feet high.

County support

Franklin County legislators unanimously passed a resolution Thursday backing the project.

Legislator Tim Burpoe, D-Saranac Lake, brought the resolution to the floor and explained that he had discussed ways he could help the project move forward with LaBarge. LaBarge responded by saying Burpoe could get the support of Franklin County.

“I can actually throw a rock from the site of this and hit any house in Franklin County, but technically it is in Essex County,” Burpoe said. “I think the strength of this resolution is that it is Franklin County, and we are endorsing a project in Essex County, and I think that says a lot about how strongly we feel about such a great project coming into Saranac Lake.”

At last week’s press conference, LaBarge credited Burpoe with encouraging him to look at hotel development opportunities in the village.

“He’s been on me for four years since we brought the Holiday Inn Express (in Malone) concept to fruition,” LaBarge said.

Contact Chris Knight at 891-2600 ext. 24 or