St. Joe’s gym project upsets neighbors

SARANAC LAKE – St. Joseph’s Addiction Treatment and Recovery Centers wants to build a 6,000-square-foot gymnasium and recreation center on its property off of Glenwood Drive.

Neighboring homeowners raised a long list of concerns about the project during a village planning board public hearing Wednesday night. Among other things, they said the proposal would bring more traffic to the largely residential area, create noise and light pollution, and reduce their property values.

Some of the same people raised some of the same concerns in 2012 when St. Joe’s proposed building a 10,000-square-foot dormitory for veterans suffering from substance abuse and post-traumatic stress disorder on a 3-acre parcel off of Kiwassa Road. After a long, winding and sometimes contentious review process, the planning board approved the veterans residence, which is set to open this fall.

St. Joe’s CEO Bob Ross said the gym and recreation center would be constructed using funding it received from the state to renovate its main building and construct the veterans residence.

The new facility would be located at the end of a parking lot in front of St. Joe’s main building, along the edge of the woods near a flat area that’s used for picnics and outdoor recreation.

“The building itself has a main open recreation area that’s sort of like a small, half-court, elementary school-type gym,” Ross said. “There’s a fitness area, some showers, meeting space, some storage – it’s a pretty straightforward building.”

The site is one of about a dozen that St. Joe’s officials considered for the veterans residence. Ross said it was ruled out for that purpose because it “would have been right in the middle of the campus activity and not provided the kind of separation and privacy we wanted to achieve for the veterans program.”

During a question-and-answer session with the planning board, Ross and Cindy Garso of North Woods Engineering outlined details of the project’s lighting, grading, stormwater and utilities. Asked about parking and traffic, Ross said there would be no increased traffic associated with the project “because this isn’t bringing any additional residents or staff in.” Ross also said the facility wouldn’t extend the hours during which St. Joe’s provides programming. The gym could be made available for community use, but Ross said that would be minimal and the details would have to be worked out.

During a public hearing, Kiwassa Road resident Esther Arlan recalled the questions she and other neighbors had raised about the veterans residence.

“Our concerns then and now remain the same: safety, noise, lighting and substantial increase of traffic on rural and residential roads,” Arlan said, reading from a four-page letter to the board. She called for a traffic study and for experts to review ways to mitigate noise impacts and light pollution from the St. Joe’s property.

“As St. Joe’s builds more and more buildings that cast more and more light into the sky and into the surrounding neighbors, it begins to look like a city block rather than the appearance it had in the early 1980s,” said Hays Lane resident Jon Vinograd.

Lionel Arlan, Esther’s husband, said he was concerned about “constantly new projects being formed” by St. Joe’s.

“I call it insidious creepage because it’s had a deleterious affect on our neighborhood,” he said. “It’s had an affect on real estate values, and we saw that on Kiwassa Road this past summer.”

The Arlans and other nearby property owners said they’ve had sewage backup in their basements from the St. Joe’s main facility and asked the board to take a closer look at the sewer system being proposed.

Later in the meeting, Ross repeated his earlier statements that the facility would create no additional traffic.

“From what we’ve heard, the facility would not generate any additional traffic that seems to be measurable,” said village Community Development Director Jeremy Evans.

Ross also said the noise from the gym wouldn’t be any louder than the noise that comes from the recreation field on the campus.

“Noise is a non-issue,” said board Chairwoman Leslie Karasin.

Evans said the sewage issues on St. Joe’s property need more study, which he said he’d do in consultation with the village Department of Public Works.

Evans also said he’d take a closer look at the proposed lighting for the project. He noted that the village doesn’t have lighting standards but said he can review the standards of the International Dark Skies Association, although he didn’t think what’s proposed for the gym – two wall-mounted fixtures and a light pole – “would even be on the radar.” When planning board members asked about possible light impacts from a series of windows at the top of the gym, Ross said a shading system could be added to those windows.

The board adjourned the public hearing until its next regular meeting Sept. 18. It plans to conduct a site visit on Sept. 3.

Ross said he’s hopeful construction of the facility could begin in the fall.

Contact Chris Knight at 891-2600 ext. 24 or