PUDD law ammended in wake of projects

SARANAC LAKE – The village has updated a law that’s guiding the development of two major projects in the community.

The village Board of Trustees, in a 3-1 vote Monday, approved an amended planned unit development district law, but only after one member of the board questioned the decision.

Trustee Allie Pelletieri, who cast the lone dissenting vote, argued that the village was “changing the rules midstream” for the company that’s developing a 93-room hotel on the Lake Flower shoreline and has asked the project site to be rezoned to a PUDD.

Two audience members also spoke against the PUDD law during a public hearing, calling it a loophole in the village’s planning and zoning regulations, a claim disputed by village Trustee Paul Van Cott.

Attempt to clarify

The PUDD law was brought back to the board’s table after village officials realized the original 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. The same was true for a revised PUDD law the board adopted in May and was intended to apply to all future PUDD applications.

Both laws have now been officially filed with the secretary of state, but to avoid confusion, village officials drafted an amended PUDD law and scheduled a public hearing on it. It would repeal the 2011 PUDD law and amend the revised May PUDD.

“It’s intended to bring forward the existing PUDD laws we have on our books and basically reconcile them into one PUDD law that will provide for a fair and consistent process for both our current applicants but also will apply to any future PUDD applications,” Van Cott said Monday.

There are two major PUDD applications pending in the village. One is for the Lake Flower Spa and Resort, proposed by Lake Flower Lodging LLC. The company’s initial application was submitted last year, when the original PUDD law was thought to be in effect. It was granted preliminary approval in December by the village board.

The American Management Association submitted a PUDD application in June, after the village revised the original PUDD law. It spells out how the company plans to develop and sell off unused buildings of its 65-acre campus.

Questions

When the amended law came up for a vote, Pelletieri said he was against it because it would cover previously submitted applications.

“I think that’s totally wrong,” he said. “To change the rules in midstream because of a mistake made here at the village just totally doesn’t sound fair to me, whether you agree with the project or not.”

Pelletieri noted that the original law limited the size of a PUDD to 3 acres but allowed the village board to consider smaller PUDDs if they meet certain conditions. Under the new law, that “out clause” was removed, Pelletieri said. If the board approved the amended law, he assumed it would nix the hotel project because the site where the structure would be built is just under 3 acres.

“This will definitely shut the project down, is the way I see it,” Pelletieri said.

Van Cott responded, although he noted that he’s recused from the village’s review of the hotel because it’s also being reviewed by the state Adirondack Park Agency, where he works as an attorney. Van Cott said the hotel’s project site is over 3 acres in size when you include the company’s proposed off-site parking on River Street. Even though the new law says the 3 acres have to be “contiguous,” the village added a clause that takes out the word “contiguous” for any applications submitted before the new law takes effect, essentially grandfathering Lake Flower Lodging’s PUDD application.

“The Lake Flower hotel project will be able to be processed under this law and will be able to meet that standard,” Van Cott said.

Pelletieri brought up several other differences between the old and new laws, including changes to the pre-application process. Under the new law, a developer can consult with the community development director before submitting a PUDD application. Pelletieri said he was concerned about having just one person involved in the pre-application phase, suggesting a planning board member or village board member should also be involved as a backup.

Pelletieri also noted that the new law requires a supermajority, or four members, of the village board to approve a PUDD if the planning board recommends rejecting it. Noting that Van Cott sometimes recuses himself from APA-related projects, Pelletieri said the supermajority requirement would mean the four remaining members would have to all agree.

Van Cott said the original law required a pre-application phase, conceptual review and conceptual approval. The new law makes that preliminary process optional, which Van Cott said provides more flexibility.

As for the supermajority clause, Van Cott said it “provides more protection” and makes it harder for the village board to approve a PUDD if the planning board is against it.

The amended PUDD law was approved with Van Cott, Trustee Tom Catillaz and Mayor Clyde Rabideau in favor. Trustee Barbara Rice was absent.

Public hearing

Earlier, during the public hearing, Caperton Tissot of Saranac Lake, just outside the village, and Rosalie Fontana of Bloomingdale spoke against the PUDD law. Tissot said it sets the village’s normal zoning regulations and comprehensive plan aside, allowing developers to “freely bypass” those constraints.

“Why should major developments not be held to the same well-regulated standards that other villagers must follow?” Tissot asked.

“I think the PUDD statute opens the door to unplanned growth and development,” Fontana said. “As the Lake Flower hotel project demonstrates, the existence of an easy way to bypass zoning can tip the scales to favor short-term expedience over long-term goals. The result can be haphazard, undesirable growth.”

Van Cott responded later, saying the PUDD process provides for a more comprehensive approach to the review of bigger projects.

“It is not a loophole in our zoning,” he said. “It’s a zoning tool used across the state and across the country to deal with projects that don’t fit into traditional zoning. It does not violate our comprehensive plan or our local waterfront plan and objectives.”