Lake George John Herzog, former president of the local seniors' club, talks at a Lake George Village zoning forum March 25 about how changes in the existing ordinances are likely to boost local prosperity. In addition to stringent architectural guidelines for new buildings and renovations, the proposed zoning changes would allow buildings on some parcels downtown up to 72 feet high, rather than the existing 3-story limit
A proposal to increase the height of buildings in Lake George Village as tall as six stories may have sparked controversy for months, but only several dozen attended a public zoning forum Monday March 25. Regardless of the limited attendance, the dissension may not fade away, however.
Several people attending did object to the height extension initiative, which is included as part of an array of pending zoning changes now under consideration by the Lake George Village Board.
With an eye on boosting local prosperity, the Village Board of Trustees has proposed to allow buildings in particular commercial zones on and near Canada St. to be as tall as 72 feet high. The board has also endorsed strict design guidelines with a goal of improving the commercial zone aesthetically.
The initiative of building height extension was primarily prompted last year by area developer Dave Kenny’s proposal to build a multi-story chain hotel on the property where Giuseppe’s Pizza and Restaurant exist. Blais has since said that several other prospective developers have also inquired about similar large-scale developments.
At the forum, several local citizens questioned the impact of six-story buildings on the character of the town, and whether they’d obstruct the views of the lake. Questions were also raised on why particular properties were chosen for such relaxation of height restrictions, and neighboring ones weren’t.
Heather Engwer, who grew up in Lake George, said six stories was far too tall, out of character with the village, and would block views. She added that such upward development wasn’t needed in the village.
Town Board member Marisa Muratori, a village resident, asked if viewsheds were thoroughly evaluated.
Village Mayor Robert Blais replied that board members had walked the streets behind Canada Street and weighed the impact of six story structures, and drafted the proposal to choose particular zones based on their findings.
Local resident Barbara Neubauer and Jan Loonan asked why the particular properties were chosen by the board for six stories and others weren’t. Loonan asked why the property selection didn’t match earlier plans drafted by the zoning steering committee, and Neubauer asked how the Lake George Steamboat property on Beach Road and the Fort William Henry property were added since the last public meeting.
“What would preclude anyone else from being added at this point?” she asked
Blais responded that the owners of the two enterprises, Bill Dow and Bob Flacke respectively, had called him recently and asked for the liberalized six-story height.
He continued that the Adirondack Park Agency will still be reviewing every project over three stories maximum anyway.
Susan Millington, owner of a small office next to Giuseppe’s said the public should be shown architectural renderings of the building. Blais responded that it would be a waste of a developer’s money to draft such plans before the zoning changes were in place.
“I want to make sure the plans for the hotel go before the appropriate boards so everyone remains in the process,” she said.
Blais assured her that there would be no short-cuts.
“The planning board has a lot of expertise and I have a lot of confidence in them,” he said.
Millington and Robert Rastelli, owner of the Pancake House, also asked why only five particular parcels were selected for the six-story maximum — and his plot was bypassed. Blais responded that the chosen lots were the only ones where six-story buildings wouldn’t substantially obstruct views — and had adequate parking as well.
Buildings of up to six floors or a maximum of 72 feet high to be permitted from Mountain Drive south to McGillis Avenue on the west side of Canada St. as well as the two aforementioned properties. All other areas on the west side of Canada Street are to have height restrictions raised to 45 feet or four stories from the present three — throughout the commercial resort and commercial mixed-use zones.
The design restrictions call for more green space, additional setbacks and improved architectural elements on both new buildings and extensive renovations.
Aesthetic requirements include include allowing only earth-tone and historic colors, mandating that doorways be recessed, and that windows be appropriately spaced and sized and that architecture be authentic and in harmony with other existing buildings.
Design standards would include prohibiting long, flat, blank walls and rooflines, and calling for the use of dormers, parapets, stepped roofs, balconies, cornices, plus wall offsets and recesses to create visual appeal.
Resident John Herzog said he approved of changes that would boost the local economy.
“We have to do something to get industry motivated,” he said.
Although Mayor Blais said the board members had not made any decisions, each council member said they were in favor of the changes.
Village Board member John Root said he supported the height increase, although the proposed six-story hotel would block the view from his home.
“If I want a view of the lake, I can always walk down the street and see what I want,” he said, adding that the height extension was needed to boost prosperity and prevent insolvency of the school district.
Councilman John Earl also endorsed the plan, and said that growing upward was what the APA was encouraging, instead of allowing horizontal sprawl.
“This is a turning point for the Village — and hopefully we’re right,” he said.
Councilman Ray Perry said growing upward would make a more walkable community, and that additional development would help the the town and village with their financial distress.
“We’re struggling not to have a tax increase, and there’s an uphill battle ahead of us with the economy as it is,” he said.
Councilman Joe Mastrodomenico also said he was in favor of the changes.
“The village has to grow somewhere,” he said. “this is what we’ve got to do.”
Rastelli questioned whether the board was actually welcoming public input, as the Mayor had pledged at the meeting’s start.
“Is this a done deal?” he asked.
Town of Lake George resident Joanne Gavin who previously voiced strong opposition to the height extension on behalf of her 100-member Lake George Citizens Group, said she didn’t attend because the board had already decided to adopt the change.
“The citizens of Lake George may have been heard in earlier meetings, but they weren’t listened to,” she said, criticizing the the public review procedure as “a sham.”
Diamond Point residents Mike and Dana Segulic also didn’t attend the meeting, but circulated an email afterwards citing they were “vehemently” opposed to the height changes. Among their concerns, was the impact of the increased wastewater from the development on Lake George water quality.
At the end of the meeting, developer Dave Kenny said the low turnout at the hearing was due to fading opposition.
“I’d like to think we’ve presented a good enough project that it’s calmed a lot of fears,” pledging that his building would have pleasing architectural features that would enhance the village’s character.
“Lake George needs meeting accommodations, and we think we can draw groups out of Albany,” he said.