The right way or the highway

The proposed Lake Flower hotel development has several good things going for it. The project would consolidate three existing motel properties into one “spa and resort.” It would give the three current motel owners a well-earned break by enabling them to sell their properties after decades of hard work operating and maintaining them. It would take advantage of the site by providing rooms in the village with a lake view. It would give Saranac Lake a better mix of lodgings and help attract more tourists and tourist dollars – especially in conjunction with the rebirth of the Hotel Saranac, our village centerpiece. It would benefit the existing, moderately priced motels by eliminating three traditional lodging places, making the remaining facilities more competitive in their price range.

So what’s the problem? The problem is that the Lake Flower hotel project is too big and too bulky for the site. As someone said at the recent planning board hearing, it’s as if the developer is trying to cram 10 pounds of contents into a 5-pound bag. His project would fill the space currently occupied by the three motels with a massive structure and adjacent parking lots. His building would be longer than three football fields and would dominate Lake Flower – essentially appropriating the north end of the lake for his own purposes.

The project would spill over to the other side of the street, removing a nice old house across the street with a parking lot, a step that could hardly be described as progress. Though the developer suggests in his fact sheet that he will “make approaches to Saranac Lake more attractive and inviting,” his proposed project will do the opposite. Picture this: You are a visitor driving into our village on Lake Flower Avenue (Route 86) from Lake Placid. You first glimpse Lake Flower on the left, across from McKenzie’s Grill. Soon you pass Fogarty’s Marina, and whammo! On your left is the blockbuster hotel with its surrounding parking lots, while facing you is the new parking lot created for the hotel’s spillover.

This is what will greet you before you turn left onto River Street and, if you’re lucky enough not to get snarled in traffic at this already difficult intersection, into the heart of Saranac Lake.

It needn’t be this way. If our public officials act responsibly, with the long-term future of our community in mind, we can come out way ahead. Our planning and village boards can call on the developer to reduce his project to an appropriate size for our waterfront, from four to three stories, or from 48 to 36 feet. (That’s higher than our traditional zoning would have required, but still an acceptable size.) The 63-foot turret, which the developer describes as a “Victorian feature” of the project, could be 20 feet lower or eliminated altogether. The total number of rooms could be reduced from 93 to 60, still more than the total provided by the three existing motels.

This modified structure would stand out and attract attention, but it would have some open space around it. It would enhance rather than overwhelm the lake and degrade the eastern gateway to our village. If the developer insists that he needs his project to be massively scaled in order to have a viable business, we should find a more compatible developer who would come up with an attractive, upscale project in keeping with the spirit of Saranac Lake. If he continues to insist that “It’s my way or the highway,” we should show him the road and wish him a safe journey home.

The state of New York has, thanks to a supportive Governor Cuomo who is gung-ho on tourism and job creation, earmarked $2 million toward the project. That’s probably enough to cover the cost of acquiring the three existing motel properties.

So if this developer refuses to do it right, it shouldn’t be hard to find someone who will. This is a natural place for an attractive, properly scaled, lakeside hotel, and there must be other entrepreneurs out there who are eager to capitalize on the potential.

Saranac Lake seems poised for a renaissance. The right kind of inn on Lake Flower would figure nicely into this.

Dick Beamish is a resident of Saranac Lake.