Muddle of PUDD

SARANAC LAKE – A law the village Board of Trustees thought it adopted three years ago – and is supposed to be guiding a high-end hotel proposal on Lake Flower – technically wasn’t in effect until just recently.

The village Board of Trustees voted Monday to schedule a public hearing later this month on an amended planned unit development district law. The hearing will be held July 28 at 5:30 p.m. in the village offices on the second floor of the Harrietstown Town Hall.

The move is an attempt to clarify what PUDD law and process is currently in effect in the village. It comes just weeks after village officials realized their original PUDD law, adopted in October 2011, had never been filed with New York’s secretary of state – meaning it wasn’t in effect, along with several other laws the village board adopted in 2010 and 2011.

In May of this year, the village adopted a revised law intended to apply to all future PUDD applications, but it apparently wasn’t filed with the secretary of state, either. On July 8, after village officials realized the problem, both the revised and the original PUDD laws were filed with the secretary of state.

The snafu with the laws, which village officials are calling a procedural defect, comes as two major PUDD applications are on the village’s table. One is for a controversial 93-room hotel on the Lake Flower shoreline. Lake Flower Lodging’s PUDD application was submitted last year, when the original PUDD law was thought to be in effect. It was conceptually reviewed under that law by the village planning board over several weeks last fall and was eventually granted preliminary approval in December by the village board.

The American Management Association has also submitted a PUDD application that spells out how it plans to develop its 65-acre campus. It was filed in June, after the village revised the original PUDD law, which technically wasn’t in effect.

The resolution the board approved Monday night would repeal the 2011 PUDD law and amend the revised PUDD law the board adopted in May so it can be used to process future PUDD applications as well as any that were submitted under the original law.

“This amendment basically brings everything forward so we’re under one law and we have a consistent process,” village Trustee Paul Van Cott said at the board’s meeting Monday evening.

Trustee Allie Pelletieri noted that the change would mean the Lake Flower hotel’s application would be reviewed under the revised PUDD law, not the law it was filed under last year. He said there are some differences in those two laws.

Van Cott said the differences are procedural, not substantative.

But Pelletieri said he is concerned that the village is “changing the rules in the middle of the game” for the hotel project.

“I don’t think that’s the intent here,” Van Cott said. “We’re simply trying to cure it so we can treat all applicants consistently and fairly going forward.”

Meanwhile, village officials are checking to see if other laws the board passed are on file with the Department of State. State officials told the Enterprise earlier this month that they had no record of any village laws being passed in 2010 or 2011, although the board had adopted at least a dozen laws over those two years.

“We must be doing that with every other law, following up the ones that we missed?” Pelletieri asked.

“That is something that I talked with (village Manager) John (Sweeney) about,” Van Cott said. “We need to think about what it means for the other laws that only recently have been filed.”

In addition to the confusion about the process of enacting the PUDD law, village officials have faced tough questions about the purpose of the law. At a public meeting last month on the village’s draft land-use code, several people called the PUDD law a loophole in the village’s code, noting that once land is rezoned to a PUDD, normal zoning regulations don’t apply on that land.

Village Community Development Director Jeremy Evans said he understands that argument, but he says the PUDD law was designed to allow for “negotiation and flexibility” between an applicant and the village.

Van Cott said the PUDD process provides a more comprehensive review of big projects than traditional zoning does.

“If you have a variance application, all you’re doing is focusing in on the variance you’re looking at and looking at that alone,” he said. “When you’re doing the PUDD, it’s like a full-on environmental review and a full-on review to make sure what we’re doing is consistent with the comprehensive plan and the village’s Local Waterfront Revitalization Program. It’s not a loophole. It’s actually a better way to review large-scale development.”