A standing-room-only crowd of local residents turned out Feb. 10 for a public hearing on proposed six-story Marriott Courtyard hotel to be located downtown in the village, and a half-dozen people expressed opposition to the development’s size and height — and questioned its architecture as well as its effect on traffic, village ambiance and sewage treatment output.
The village planning board, however, approved a special use permit — in a split vote — for the development after discussing the ambitious hotel plans until about 11:30 p.m. after much of the audience had left for the night. Planning Board members Patricia Dow and Dan Wolfield voted against granting the special use permit.
The board also formulated some conditions for approval of the site review plan — the second phase of review. The board will be evaluating the site review plan in its entirety at its next regular meeting set for 7:30 p.m. Wednesday Feb. 19.
The project to build a 120-room hotel and conference center has been subject to a half-dozen hearings so far, with its architecture being re-drafted from a boxy slab-sided hotel with long, flat walls to one that incorporates stepped roofs, wall offsets and recesses as well as articulated architectural features.
Sue Millington, who owns an adjacent property, questioned whether the village sewer treatment plant could handle the additional load from 130 or more toilets, three three restaurants, and laundry facilities at the hotel.
Planning board chairman Robert Mastrantoni said the additional sewage was not an issue because the board had a letter on file from Village Public Works Superintendent Dave Harrington and he’d “signed off” on the plant’s ability to accommodating the extra sewage.
But Lake George Citizen’s Group leader Joanne Gavin and others in the audience said that merely receiving a letter of assurance wasn’t enough, that the public should know the facts concerning the hotel’s estimated additional sewage flow and the sewer plant’s processing capacity.
Peter Bauer, Executive Director of Protect the Adirondacks, said that regardless of the village sewer plant’s theoretical capacity, water tests around the village indicate that the plant is already raising nitrate levels too high in groundwater and waterways, contributing to pollution of the lake. He said that experts from the Darrin Freshwater Institute and the Fund for Lake George should be consulted about whether more sewage flow would be a detriment to the local environment.
“Get scientists in here to provide data,” he said about the potential influx of excess nitrates and phosphorus from the treatment plant’s effluent which makes it way to the lake. Under pressure from state environmental officials, the village has been working for years to reduce nitrate levels in the plants outflow and a multi-million-dollar project to upgrade the plant is now underway.
Bauer urged the planning board to postpone its decision-making process until it heard the concerns raised by the Adirondack Park Agency in their upcoming review process. He said the local planning board might benefit from witnessing the APA scrutiny, as the agency members were likely to have more expert resources.
“Wouldn’t the board benefit from the opportunity to review the extra information requested by the APA?” he asked.
Christine Vega seconded Bauer’s and Gavin’s points.
“We’re not getting any clear-cut answers here — we’re not getting the detail about our concerns,” Vega said.
Gavin said that the citizens’ persistent concerns about the six-story height and its effect on the village’s ambiance were not being listened to.
“This is the biggest project ever to happen in this community, and it’s your responsibility to look at everything closely, and answer citizens’ questions,” she said. “You’re not here to merely satisfy the the developer, you’re here for the people of the community.”
Acknowledging that changes had indeed been made to the plans, she suggested that they might not be extensive enough, and the six-story size might be too tall for the plot. Jon Lapper, representing hotel developer Dave Kenny, said that several extra parcels had already been acquired to provide enough room.
But Gavin offered an opposing view, saying she’d heard from a large number of citizens who objected to a six-story building at this location.
“People are extremely concerned,” she said. “It’s a matter of being proud of our village. I don’t want to hear from visitors, ‘What a monstrosity!’”
Her comments prompted applause.
Earlier, Mastrantoni had said that the height of the building was a moot issue, because the village had already voted on allowing buildings that high. Village attorney Mark Schachner then corrected him, saying that the height was indeed under the jurisdiction of the board.
Lapper replied that Kenny had originally sought eight stories, and it was reduced to six to conform to the wishes of the community.
Retired teacher Mercedes Gaudier said she thought the size of the building and its architecture were incompatible with the ambiance of the village.
“There’s nothing that integrates the size of the mass to the prevailing style of architecture in the village,” she said. “Twigs here and there don’t make Adirondack architecture.”
Lapper said that Gaudier and others apparently hadn’t seen the latest plans, which included stepped roofs, setbacks and accents of natural materials.
Vega asked about the additional traffic due to the hotel.
”It’s already congested in the village. Where are all the cars going to park?”
Lapper replied that more traffic meant more prosperity for businesses and more available jobs.
“Mayor Blais said traffic is a good thing to have more of,” Lapper said.
Since the last meeting on the project, the project developers conducted a “balloon test” to demonstrate the height of the building, designed a buffer area around a patio on the north side of the building near the local high school, and produced photo-elevations of the building from different angles.
Contacted Feb. 11, Lapper predicted that the permit process would be progressing.
“We were pleased we got as far as we did last night,” he said. “I expect things will be set to go soon.”