Lake George is now headed into a transformation that offers insights useful to other Adirondack communities as they chart a course into the future that incorporates prosperity as well as maintaining a high quality of life.
With 100,000 or more visitors annually spending weekends or extended vacations in Lake George, entrepreneurs for decades have built motels, restaurants and retail shops to meet the tourists’ desires.
Many of the business owners or absentee landlords — a large portion from outside the area — have built structures to host business enterprises with one main objective: to expend the least amount of money possible.
Taking advantage of prevailing lax municipal development regulations, developers have constructed commercial buildings lacking in architectural merit. For years, many “new” storefronts have been merely alterations and conversions of residences — or new construction with minimal design and cheap materials. Meanwhile, historic buildings with outstanding architecture have been destroyed, one by one, by fire or unbridled development.
The result has been a village with a hodgepodge of structures of little or no architectural value, as the population of year-round village residents has slowly decreased.
Many discerning vacationers have increasingly sought out other destinations that have a more intact historic identity or have buildings exemplifying higher aesthetic values. And while Lake George’s clientele has shifted over the decades, some retailers have aimed to appeal to the changing visitor profile. Several store windows now displaying T-shirts with obscene slogans serve an example of what can result. Although Lake George has been rated as a top family vacation destination, some publications have used the terms “tacky” and “honky tonk.”
In recent years, however, Lake George has embarked on a turnaround.
Progressive leaders have envisioned an upscale, revitalized village full of year-round downtown residents as well as visitors, savoring daily life of work, recreation and raising families.
Dozens of new quality cultural events have been launched. Regulations to rein in unbridled commercialism have been enacted. Projects to upgrade the streetscape and enhance the pedestrian experience have been undertaken, and they’ve resulted in considerable success.
Last winter, developer Dave Kenny hinted he was interested in situating an upscale hotel and conference center in the village.
Recognizing that such a facility would boost the prosperity of the village, local leaders re-examined their zoning regulations and adopted amendments to not only accommodate such a development, but to assure that this hotel and others would be built in an appropriate manner. They reviewed their existing architectural guidelines, and strengthened them by adding various aspects and converting the suggestions to mandates.
These new architectural standards include calling for the use of varied, quality materials, as well as staggered rooflines, multiple exterior planes, wall offsets and recesses, dormers, parapets, and cornices.
We applaud the village board of trustees’ actions.
Good architecture and savvy municipal planning attract people to a community to not only visit, but to live in it, prosper, and savor the experience.
Kenny’s initial drawings of his hotel were presented last month to the Lake George Village Planning Board. The drawings depicted a long boxy structure with blank walls — prohibited in Lake George’s new zoning laws — interrupted only with three shallow towers with Adirondack-themed roofs with faux log beams.
Such elements were a nod to the new architectural guidelines, but didn’t go far enough. It was interesting to see that Kenny also had alternate backup plans for the hotel, depicting stepped roofs, extensive stonework, various offsets and far more visual interest.
Kudos to the planning board members who directed Kenny to go back to the drawing board and redesign the hotel to incorporate architectural quality, and not just minimal design cues.
Comprehensive architectural mandates and historic preservation laws have proven their worth in many other resort communities like Jackson Hole, Wyoming; Boulder, Colorado and upscale neighborhoods in major cities like Philadelphia as well as nearby Saratoga Springs.
Although attacked by some as intrusive elitism or an erosion of property rights, architectural mandates and progressive community planning have immeasurable benefits, boosting the quality of life for all.
Here in the Adirondacks, we can resist the intrusion of the ubiquitous American franchise-driven architecture. Drawing on our individualism, we can celebrate our traditional aesthetic diversity, while committing to develop our communities to incorporate a vibrant cultural life.
Without question, it’s in our best interests.