Planning board approves St. Joe’s gym

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

The unanimous decision Wednesday night came after the board discussed a trio of issues that were raised during its first look at the project last month: lighting, utilities and landscaping. The approval also came over the objections of several neighboring and nearby property owners.

The multi-purpose building would be located at the end of a parking lot in front of St. Joseph’s main building, near a flat area that’s used for picnics and outdoor recreation. It will include a half-court, elementary school-size gym, a fitness area, showers, bathrooms and meeting space.

St. Joseph’s CEO Bob Ross told the board that the only significant change to the site plan since the last meeting was the addition of some landscaping, including several trees that are designed to screen the building from Jon and Meg Vinograd’s home on Hayes Lane. The trees have already been planted, Ross said.

In response to concerns about light from the gym’s upper windows spilling out at night, Ross said motorized screens will be used to cover those windows during nights when the gym is in use.

At last month’s meeting, a pair of neighboring property owners said they had experienced sewage backups in their basements and asked the board to look into the proposed sewer system for the project.

Village Community Development Director Jeremy Evans said Wednesday that he talked to village Department of Public Works Superintendent Jeff Dora about a sewer backup in March. Evans said that the sewer line has been cleaned out and that the problem “was somewhat routine for the village, although that doesn’t help a homeowner with a flooded basement.” Evans also said Dora didn’t believe the proposed gym would be detrimental to the sewer system in the Glenwood area.

At last month’s meeting a group of neighboring property owners raised concerns about the project, saying it would create noise and light pollution, bring more traffic into the area and reduce their property values. They had raised similar concerns about another recent St. Joseph’s project, a 10,000-square-foot dormitory for veterans suffering from substance abuse and post-traumatic stress disorder, which is set to open this fall.

Only one nearby resident spoke at Wednesday night’s meeting. Jon Vinograd said the board had failed to take into account two issues it’s required to consider under the State Environmental Quality Review process: whether the project could induce additional growth or development, and whether there could be “long-term, short-term, cumulative or other effects.”

Vinograd said increased truck and car traffic at St. Joseph’s has created health and safety issues in the neighborhood. He called for the board to require a traffic study.

“I’m not against building this gym,” Vinograd said. “What I’m against is the village planning committee is ignoring the cumulative effects of building on that property. Sooner or later you have to set standards.”

Evans said the village is wrestling with larger issues at St. Joseph’s, “trying to recognize the impacts on the neighborhood but allow St. Joe’s to thrive,” but he said “this specific project doesn’t induce any growth. It’s in many ways accessory to the main use of the campus. It doesn’t generate traffic or any additional activity.”

As for the traffic study, Evans said, “We have projects over the village that create far more traffic that we wouldn’t need to suggest a traffic study.

“That’s not to minimize the traffic speeds and the lack of sidewalks, things like that,” Evans said. “Those are all legitimate things that the village and St. Joe’s need to work on.”

Planning Board Chairwoman Leslie Karasin noted that Ross has said the gym wouldn’t create additional traffic because people would be walking to it from other buildings on the campus and because it wouldn’t be used by off-site staff or clients.

Ross has said the state grant-funded construction of the building could begin this fall