Let’s get it right

On Sunday my wife and I took a walk around much of Lake Flower, the centerpiece of our village. We followed along Riverside Park (another village treasure), across the bridge over the dam to Kiwassa Road and then up Riverside Drive. Viewing the lake all the way, we discussed the reasons for its charm. Clearly it was due to the park on the north side of the lake and the human-scale residential development elsewhere on the shoreline.

Then we tried to envision the “resort hotel” proposed for Pontiac Bay. What would be its impact, not only on homeowners living behind it but on the view from across the lake where we were walking? Also, how would this thing look from the water, where we would soon be paddling?

As proposed, the Lake Flower inn would visually take over the lake. It would tower 60 feet high, a project the developer describes as four stories even though it is closer to the height of a five-story structure. And at more than 300 feet wide, this looming wall of a building would be longer than a football field.

We could imagine the reaction of future generations of visitors when they first behold this behemoth, especially paddlers and boaters out on the lake. “How could this have happened?” is a question that would be repeated many times in years to come

But it doesn’t have to happen this way. We’ve heard encouraging sounds from those with the authority to shape the future of Saranac Lake. Here’s Saranac Lake Mayor Clyde Rabideau being interviewed by Publisher Tom Woodman in the current issue of the Adirondack Explorer magazine:

Woodman: Are you in favor of the hotel as proposed?

Rabideau: I do not like the current rendering of the hotel. It looks like a rectangle. It looks like a corporate chain. What I’m looking for is something unique, flavored with the Adirondacks. Something to be proud of that doesn’t have a blockish silhouette but has some character and flair to it. I think we can lower it a touch. I think we can make it fit. We’re going to go through a very arduous process of planning to ensure that.

Woodman: How would you describe your development philosophy for Saranac Lake?

Rabideau: For newer development we have to strike an Adirondack theme, and it should make Saranac Lake a special place. The look has got to fit our Adirondack heritage. If we can do it smartly, correctly so that it still has the human scale, where it still feels like a nice Adirondack small town, that’s the goal.

The mayor was echoing the sentiments of the Saranac Lake Destination Master Plan, whose stated goal is to “make the approaches to Saranac Lake more attractive and inviting. These actions will enhance the quality of life of Saranac Lake and help maintain its hometown character.” The plan favors “prudent and properly scaled growth.”

And then there’s the recent report from our village planning board, whose recommendations will influence the final outcome: “At four stories and 59’6″ high, the height of the principal structure is twice what is allowed in the B2 Zoning district. How the height, bulk and orientation of the principal structure affect viewsheds and the streetscape will be of critical importance.” The planning board further states that “the details of the project’s landscaping will provide an important opportunity to tweak the project design to minimize some of the potential detrimental impacts of the project and thus more fully realize the village’s planning objectives.”

The planning board assures us that “the Project, with modifications and refinement can meet the planning objectives” of the village.

It remains to be seen how much “tweaking” and “refinement” will be brought to bear. Mayor Rabideau’s otherwise insightful comments are called into question by his qualifier, “I think we can lower it a touch.” Sorry, but “a touch” won’t do it. Neither will some tweaking.

Major surgery is required. To properly fit its site, where three human-scaled motels now sit, the Lake Flower inn should be shrunk from 60 to 30 feet in height, in conformance with our village zoning plan, and its football-field width should be substantially reduced. With a suitable design, we could end up with something we can all be proud of.

The Saranac Lake village board created a planned unit development district (PUDD) for this project to exempt the developer from existing zoning requirements. A PUDD encourages thoughtful and innovative design, but such design should express the values contained in the master plan and not contradict them. Absent the constraints of zoning, themselves the product of careful consideration, it falls to the planning board and the village board to require that the project enhances Saranac Lake.

What if the developer hangs tough and insists he can’t modify his project to meet our stated objectives? The answer is obvious. This is a prime lakefront site in the largest and most appealing village in the Adirondack Park. We should certainly be able to find a developer who appreciates the small-town qualities of Saranac Lake, a developer who sees the business potential for a properly scaled, Adirondack-style resort that would enhance (there’s that word again) rather than diminish the character of our community.

Either that or extend Riverside Park around Pontiac Bay for a truly enhanced Saranac Lake village.

Dick Beamish, a resident of Saranac Lake, launched the Adirondack Explorer magazine 16 years ago.