LAKE PLACID - More than 20 local residents, business owners and elected officials spoke up at the Monday, March 13 public hearing about the village's plans to use eminent domain to acquire property owned by the Adirondack Museum to build a municipal parking garage.
The hearing lasted 65 minutes and featured varying opinions that spanned from those who said the village's plan is foolish to others who support the garage and feel it should be just one of several parking solutions.
There were also several people who were concerned that the village chose to use an eminent domain procedure to acquire the land from the nonprofit organization.
Adirondack Museum Executive Director David Kahn and Board of Trustees member Nancy Keet both spoke at the hearing, along with the museum's lawyer Dennis Phillips.
Conn said the museum purchased the property at 2476-2478 Main St. in 2007 for $1.34 million. He said demolition and closing costs increased that number to $1.88 million. He then claimed auditors currently valued the property as an asset worth $1.49 million, and said the North Elba assessor estimated the property has a market value of $1.19 million.
"As part of the overall cost of any municipal garage project that might be built on Main Street, I would therefore respect that these numbers need to be carefully considered by everybody in this room," Conn said.
"We do not seek confrontation with the village on this matter," Keet said. "However, the board has a fiduciary responsibility to obtain a fair price for our property."
After the meeting, Lake Placid Mayor Craig Randall said the village appraised the property several years ago as worth slightly less than $800,000. He said verbal discussions with the museum began in 2011 and continued until as recently as a month ago, before halting. He described an eminent domain proceeding as the only way to get the two parties together to decide on a sale price.
"And we tried very hard to close the gap and we couldn't," Randall said.
"All I know is the reasonable efforts of both sides are falling apart," he added.
North Elba Town Councilman Derek Doty said he was "dead against" the village using eminent domain. Lake Placid resident Karen Armstrong said she "dittoed" Doty's remarks.
"I just think this is the most obvious solution and not the best solution," Armstrong said of the proposed garage.
"Eminent domain makes me a little nervous," said John Huttlinger, a neighbor of the 2476-2478 Main St. property.
Huttlinger and Armstrong were just two of more than 60 people who attended the hearing at the North Elba Town Hall.
Village engineer Ivan Zdrahal presented the renderings of the proposed garage at the footprint which includes the museum's property at 2476-2478 Main St. and the village's current municipal parking lot, commonly referred to as the NBT Bank lot.
The museum property is a narrow, currently vacant lot between the village's ramp to the upper parking lot and the ADK Outlet, where the Church of the Nazarene, now demolished, stood.
Zdrahal said current plans are for a 250-car covered garage that would feature public restrooms, an elevator and stairs. As a whole, he said the village would gain 80 to 90 parking spaces thanks to the garage, an increase from 371 total spaces to 453. He said the number of spaces on the street would reduce from 92 to 31 as part of the village's goal to turn Main Street into a more aesthetically-pleasing and pedestrian-friendly atmosphere.
Doty was one of the first to speak up at the hearing and stressed he was sharing his personal feelings rather than those of the North Elba Town Council. He said he did not have direct knowledge of the cost of the garage, but estimated it could cost between $15 million and $25 million.
At that price, Doty deemed the proposal "foolish" to only gain 80 to 90 spaces, and suggested the village and town work together to place a parking garage at the location of the municipal parking lot down the hill from the Crowne Plaza. Forty percent of that lot is owned by the town while the Lussi family, which operates the Crowne Plaza, owns the rest.
After the meeting, several village board members stressed Doty's price estimate of the garage was not correct.
"What we are looking at is doing something we think will be in the $6-to-8-million (range)," Randall said. "Frankly, I can't come up with a hard price until I can say to an engineer, 'this is the footprint.'"
Art Lussi spoke up at the meeting after he said he initially hadn't planned on it. He said putting the garage in the center of Main Street "is going to congest Main Street more than you've ever seen.
"I have worked with the town and village in the past to build a garage type structure in this area on the Olympic lot and to me that is the area where we should be investing our money," he said. "It's so much more logical."
Lussi added that he thought the village's use of eminent domain as a negotiating tool was wrong.
Speaking after the meeting, Lake Placid Trustee Jason Leon said he and other board members were initially uncomfortable with the thought of eminent domain, but came around to it due to the museum's current lack of use of the property.
"From my perspective, I'm not comfortable telling the people of Lake Placid we can't do anything about (the parking problem) because we don't want to disturb the assets of the Adirondack Museum," Leon said.
Both the Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism and the Lake Placid Business Association expressed their support for the parking garage at the hearing. LPBA President Lori Fitzgerald of the High Peaks Resort did add, though, that the business association wants to see more spaces gained from the parking garage - upwards of 200 - as well as other new parking solutions.
"We don't think that's the be all and end all," she said. "You're talking about all of those other locations. Realistically, if we are going to have all of these large events, we are going to need all of those locations. The charm of our village is at jeopardy. If we can't get people to park downtown and shop downtown, there will be no charm and village because there won't be business to support it."
Armstrong, who works at the Lake Placid Public Library, was one of several who disagreed with Fitzgerald and said Main Street would lose its charm and draw with the garage.
Realtor Peter Day, owner of 3 Main St., said he supported the idea of more parking in the village and said increased parking would help "Main Street remain Main Street.
"And not a footnote to strip malls," he said.
"I hope that the judge that listens to the testimony or reads this testimony thinks about what it means to the people that sit up here and have brought this proceeding to try to solve a problem that seems to have been a problem for half a century," Day continued.
The public can submit written comment on the proposal to Lake Placid Village Clerk Ellen Clark until 5 p.m. Monday, March 20. Lake Placid Deputy Mayor Art Devlin was not present at the meeting.