Lake George Village Zoning Board of Appeals members (left to right) Ron Mogren, Tom Sullivan and Mike Ravali listen to hotel owner Salim Amersi present a proposal Oct. 2 to demolish the main three-story building at his Surfside on the Lake resort and replace it with a six-story structure that includes 60 rooms atop a two-story parking garage.
The idea of replacing the main building at Surfside Hotel with a six-story structure received an icy reception Wednesday from the Lake George Village Zoning Board of Appeals — and prompted criticism from the public.
Salim Amersi, owner of Surfside on the Lake resort, is seeking a variance of village zoning code to build a 72-feet-tall structure in a zone that now allows up to three stories, 40 feet high maximum. The bottom two stories — one of them halfway underground — would serve as a parking garage.
Amersi and his architect Dan Neary of Saratoga Springs showed the board designs for the proposed development. The top four stories of the structure would contain 60 hotel rooms. The existing building houses 50 rooms.
Lake George resident Pam Parrott told the Zoning Board of appeals that a six-story building was a radical change — that not even downtown Glens Falls had six-story buildings.
She said that the dozens of people who opposed the recent zoning changes now allowing six stories in certain plots in the village — primarily on the west side of Canada St. — had been assured by village officials that the east side of the street was off-limits for buildings that tall, primarily to preserve views.
“We made a deal,” Parrott said. “We’re fighting for the soul and character of Lake George.”
Residents wary that variance sets a precedent
Local resident Barbara Neubauer told the zoning board that approving Amersi’s request would set an unwanted precedent for such large buildings to be built on the lake side of the street.
But Amersi said that no lake views now existed from sidewalks along Canada street near his site.
He said that it was his aim to replace aging, outdated motel units built in the 1950s, with rooms that contain the amenities that today’s travelers demand. He noted that the rooms he seeks to replace are 12 feet by 20 feet, and can only barely accommodate two double beds, and not queen-size beds.
But Parrott warned the board that approving the plans would prompt a “domino effect” in development. She said she’d heard various contractors talk about several emerging plans for motels to rebuild with taller structures.
“This is our hometown and don’t forget it,” she said.
Matt Sahler, a recent graduate of Lake George High School, said he didn’t want Lake George Village to transform into Myrtle Beach, which hosts dozens of buildings six stories and taller, and over the years has lost its residential neighborhoods to development. He said that allowing such an extensive height variance would cause development to “snowball” out of control.
“This is so close to the lake, which is our heart and soul,” he said.
Amersi: Upgrades to enhance village
But Amersi said the building was planned to be its proposed size to accommodate sufficient parking, under the existing law, for the 60 units. Zoning amendments enacted since the Surfside was built call for more parking and larger spaces than in the past.
He said that the proposed 10 rooms beyond the existing 50 were to assure the project would eventually pay for itself, citing an estimated project cost of $7 million to $9 million.
Amersi continued that Surfside needed upgraded rooms to continue to be competitive and financially viable, particularly considering that a new Marriott Courtyard hotel was likely to be built across the street, and other major hotel chains are also seeking to build.
He said that if his hotel expansion proposal was evaluated based on investment return alone, he would be wise to invest his money elsewhere.
“I’m planning to invest in Surfside because I have a passion for my business, and to make sure my guests are content,” he said.
Gavin: Plan was to restrict tall buildings
Local activist Joanne Gavin offered her thoughts.
“I’m all for good investment, she said. “But it’s the wrong place for something this high. The zoning steering committee was very clear about not extending the height on the east side of Canada Street because of the lake and the views.”
Jan Loonan, as well as Sahler, said that the village’s limited infrastructure, primarily water and sewer services, might not be able to handle the unrestrained development that might occur over time.
“We’re forgetting about our history, our culture,” she said. “Our village is being raped.”
Her final comment prompted applause by the audience.
Amersi, however, said that whatever he built would be an aesthetic asset to the village.
“The design and concept will fit in well with the village,” he said.
Amersi said the new building would be attractive, contemporary and include a 25-feet deck on the top two floors, complete with plantings and furnishings.
Zoning board of Appeals chairman Ron Mogren listened to the discussion and offered his thoughts.
“I’m very troubled with this application,” he said. “It seems like a very extreme response to what your marketing needs are.”
Several board members asked about whether the two stories of parking were really needed, and whether if fewer units were built, the parking garage would be unnecessary.
Amersi and Neary responded that the parking garage reduces sprawl by putting cars out of site while providing the space required by village code to accommodate today’s larger vehicles.
Zoning board member Kevin Merry questioned whether the village had sufficient fire-fighting equipment to handle the six-story structure. Board members pledged to seek out the answer.
Amersi offers to amend resort plans
After presenting his plans, Amersi suggested the board table the issue until their next meeting, and the board members voted to do so.
After the meeting, Amersi said he would soon be developing alternative plans for the board’s consideration.
“We still plan on upgrading,” he said. “And whatever we do, we’ll do it right.”