New cafe, gallery planned on Lake Flower Avenue

SARANAC LAKE – Over the years, 421 Lake Flower Ave. has had a long list of commercial uses: grocery store, delicatessen, garden center, gas station and, most recently, taxidermy shop.

Now the two-story building, located across the street from the Baldwin Park tennis courts, is about to be reinvented again.

Karen Davidson and Peter Seward’s plan to renovate the 4,000-square-foot building and put a cafe and art gallery on its first floor was approved Tuesday by the village planning board. The married couple’s new business, called Lake Flower Landing, would stand out along the busy road with a modernist design, unique in Saranac Lake, that may include a kind of paint that changes color.

“It’s a very innovative material,” Davidson told the board. “It’s paint applied to metal siding, and the paint is pearlescent. The mica chips are suspended in a clear base, so as you move around the building it actually changes color. At certain angles it would look a sort-of teal color, and at certain angles it would look a little bit green, and at certain angles it can even turn a sort-of purplish-blue hue. That’s sort of an artistic solution to the building that we’re investigating.”

Village Community Development Director Jeremy Evans summarized Davidson’s and Seward’s plans for the brick and masonry building, which dates to the 1920s.

“The interior of the building has been gutted, and the new owners have the intention of having two apartments on the second floor,” he said. “On the first floor there would be two spaces: One would be a small gallery on the southern part of the building where there’s an existing garage door, and there would be a small retail or restaurant space on the north side of the building.”

Evans said there are structural concerns with the building’s front wall that need to be remedied. The second floor of the building needs be squared off, he said.

“I think the building was on its way out without something done, particularly the front masonry corner,” said Sean Guenette of Loon Lake-based Green Elephant Construction, the contractor on the project. “It’s in danger of coming down. The building needs some love, and sooner rather than later.”

The new owners also plan to keep the parking spaces in front of the building and add a patio to the front-left side of the parking lot. The patio would prevent motorists from cutting through the parking lot to get to Colony Court. A plan to create access to the building’s roof, where a garden or deck could be located, is also being considered.

The project received several variances from the village Zoning Board of Appeals, Evans explained.

“The number of parking spaces required by our land-use code, based on the proposed uses of the building, was 14,” he said. “Obviously there’s not 14 spaces. The zoning board approved a variance to allow them to have six parking spaces, and also allow them to have spaces that are only eight feet wide versus what was previously a 10-foot-wide requirement.”

The use of the commercial space on the first floor is still in flux, Davidson told the board.

“It’s going to be in keeping with a mixed-use building,” she said. “We hope it will be some form of gallery, cafe, some space that’s open to the public. We’re just not sure yet. We may look for a tenant to partner with or we may do it ourselves.”

The project was cheered by the only two people who spoke about it during a public hearing at Tuesday’s meeting.

“I think this project is pretty exciting, not just from a planning standpoint, because I think they have really been creative in remodeling and revitalizing the building,” said Susan Waters. “They took a difficult building and made it rather interesting. I’m also excited by the economic possibilities for that site, to develop a business there.

“It’s a pocket of the village area that could use a face lift and some revitalization,” added Gail Brill. “I think this project is perfect.”

Board members asked for more specifics on the color-changing siding that may be used on the building. Davidson said she got the idea after seeing pictures of the Appaloosa Library in Scottsdale, Arizona, which has the same siding.

“It’s not shiny. It’s not gaudy,” Davidson said. “It’s really elegant, but it will create conversation.”

Evans recommended, and the board agreed, to conditionally approve the project. Davidson and Seward will have to return to the board once they’ve finalized their plans for exterior siding, lighting, signage, trash storage and the building’s roof. They also have to secure a right-of-way agreement with a neighboring property owner, Janie Bevilacqua.

“This allows them to get started knowing the use of the building was approved, but as those details came in, they’d have to be approved at a later date,” Evans said.

Davidson and Seward live in Lake Placid, where she works as a book designer and he as an art painter. He rents a studio in downtown Saranac lake and is a co-founder and organizer of the Hobofest music festival here.