Visitors walk through downtown Lake George on a recent Fourth of July weekend. In an attempt to lengthen the tourist season, enhance the area's attractiveness as a destination and boot the region's prosperity, village officials are seeking to make architectural standards more stringent and establish incentives to spur businesses to upgrade their storefronts.
In an effort to boost off-season tourism and enhance Lake George Village’s long-term prosperity, municipal officials have been exploring initiatives including revamping their zoning laws, establishing a Business Improvement District, and expanding tax incentives for enterprises that upgrade their property.
Feb. 21, the village board of trustees, village planning board and zoning board held a joint meeting to devise changes to the local zoning ordinances that would make their goals a reality.
The tandem panels reached a consensus: to allow buildings up to six stories tall to be built in specified areas of the village, as well as establishing various new architectural and property development standards. The present height limit for buildings is three stories.
At the meeting, representatives of Elan Planning showed examples of architecture in the downtowns of Saratoga Springs and Lake Placid, and offered their recommendations.
Proposed zoning changes include prohibiting certain lower-grade building materials, specifying building orientation on properties, and setting architectural and appearance standards. Such requirements include allowing only earth-tone and historic colors, mandating that doorways be recessed, and that windows be appropriately spaced and sized.
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.
The zoning amendment proposals are being drafted, and they’ll be presented to the public at an informational meeting in March, village Mayor Robert Blais said.
At that time, the village board would vote on the provisions, and they’d go to formal public hearings.
It was noted that many of the commercial buildings in the village were originally houses, to which commercial storefronts were added to accommodate tourists — and many of these additions were substandard or tacky.
“Some of these places look just atrocious,” Deputy Mayor John Earl said.
Village officials said that many of the buildings’ owners didn’t have spare money to undertake major renovations.
This lack of cash could be offset in part through a program of streetscape grants and loans offered through a business improvement district or local development corporation, Blais said. such a program would spur storefront improvements, Blais said, citing existing programs in Glens Falls and Saratoga Springs.
He suggested that matching grants and low-interest loans be offered for storefront renovations. Glens Falls, he said, offers $12,000 grants for storefront improvements.
Blais observed that local businesses had shown substantial interest in forming a Business Improvement District, based on opinions expressed at a recent initial BID meeting that attracted 68 business owners.
“This is a very positive sign for the village,” he said. “People are now stepping up to the plate and working together.
The next meeting of merchants interested in forming a Business Improvement District is scheduled for March 19.
Also, village trustees are considering enriching their property tax exemptions —which in the first year after a storefront upgrade allow a 50 percent reduction in the value of the upgrade, falling to 25 percent the second year and 5 percent for the next three years. The enhanced exemption would also begin at 50 percent, but reduce by only 5 percent per year — for a total of 10 years, Blais said.
Blais added that once a few store owners upgraded their facades, others would follow to retain their tourist traffic.
“These incentives could have a ripple effect, starting with people who take pride in their stores,” he said.
“We can take a big step in making Lake George more attractive for developers,” he said. “Lately, business owners are being very cooperative and very eager to assist us in accomplishing our goals.”