Planning board satisfied with lowered hotel height

SARANAC LAKE – The village Planning Board appears to have largely moved past the biggest issue surrounding the proposed Lake Flower Spa and Resort: the height of the building.

Planning board members said Tuesday they were satisfied with some of the changes made to the proposed 93-room, four-story, upscale hotel since it was last on their agenda. The redesign, submitted to the village last month by Chris LaBarge of Lake Flower Lodging, brought the height of main portion of the building down by 12 feet and reoriented it into an L-shape, reducing its frontage along Lake Flower Avenue. The new design also broke up the building’s architecture through the addition of several bump-outs and covered porches.

Board member Scott Stoddard said he liked the redesign, although he said more could be done to break up the south wall of the hotel that extends from the corner of the L to the lake, which he said would be visible to motorists coming into the village from Lake Placid. Stoddard noted that the board hasn’t been given a visual analysis showing how that side of the proposed hotel would fit into the surrounding area, just an architectural rendering.

“But I really am happy with the changes in the building and the depth of the size on (the Lake Flower Avenue) side,” Stoddard said. “It’s an excellent change to the project so far.”

Board members also asked if more could be done to improve the look of the area connecting the hotel to a public restaurant that would be built next to it.

“While I’m sharing my not-loves, I don’t love the porches and the way they work in the building,” said board Chairwoman Leslie Karasin. “In the spirit of the hotels in Saranac Lake and the notion of a grand Adirondack structure with inviting, deep porches, these don’t do it for me.”

However, Karasin later said she liked other changes in the redesign.

“For me, I think the stepping of the roofline and the L shape helps a lot to break up the mass of the building and the bulk of it overall,” she said. “I personally don’t find the height to be a major concern or consideration.”

Karasin said she’d even be willing to allow the height of the building to be increased in exchange for a more architecturally appealing roof. The first design of the hotel featured a peaked roof that reached to nearly 60 feet in height. The redesign features a lower, Mansard-style roof with integrated dormers. An update to the redesign, submitted within the past week, gave the Mansard roof’s edges more of a curved shape. Some board members asked if the Mansard roof could be brought to more of a peak so it would be less box-shaped.

LaBarge seemed flustered by the prospect that the board was now willing to consider a taller building. He said the redesign cost him $1.5 million to produce.

“The project has very, very incremental opportunity to make any changes, because the feasibility of the project was pushed to the limit with this change, which was significant from a cost perspective,” LaBarge said. “I can’t have indecisiveness at this particular point in time.”

LaBarge said he can’t add a peak to the Mansard roof and gave the board the option of either a Mansard roof with dormers or a peaked roof.

Community Development Director Jeremy Evans asked if the roof issue was a “show stopper” for the board or if they could move past it.

Karasin said the dormers add an element of “architectural diversity, visually, that I would not forsake in the interest of having a pitched roof.”

“I saw some original pictures of what you were planning to do, and now this, and I think you’ve come a really long way,” said Dave Trudeau, who was in his first meeting after being appointed to the board last month. “I think you’ve done a very nice job.”

Karasin asked if it was time to focus on other issues, and her fellow board members nodded in agreement.

“Was that a yes?” LaBarge asked.

“That was a yes,” Karasin said.

“That’s good,” LaBarge said, subtly pumping both fists. “That’s success.”

The board then briefly discussed other big issues with the project, including LaBarge’s plan to provide off-site parking on a pair of properties near the intersection of River Street, Lake Flower Avenue and Brandy Brook Avenue. Board members have raised concerns about pedestrian and traffic safety at the intersection.

LaBarge said his plan for off-site parking in that area is under review with the state Department of Transportation. He also said Mayor Clyde Rabideau and state Assemblyman Dan Stec are meeting with DOT “specific and relative to this intersection, beyond our project.”

Karasin said there are “major problems” with the intersection that pre-date LaBarge’s application but could be exacerbated by the project. She also was concerned about putting such a large parking lot in front of the hotel “near the lake, near the road, at visible gateways.

“If it were just a building in a well landscaped site, it would be one thing,” she said. “When you surround it with a very considerable amount of parking, and you put off-site parking in the place of an existing commercial structure, that’s where, to me, the size of the project starts to feel like it’s tipping a balance.”

Karasin said she’d rather see less parking.

LaBarge said the additional parking is needed to meet the requirements of the village’s land-use code and to support the project’s goal as a destination resort with a spa and conference center. He also said the off-site parking would largely be used by employees.

The board will continue its review of Lake Flower Lodging’s planned unit development district application at its next meeting, Aug. 19 at 7 p.m. Although it’s not required, the board has scheduled a public comment session at the same time.