Concerns surface on related APA headquarters relocation plan
By Gwendolyn Craig
The first step in what may be a domino line for the Adirondack Park Agency to move its headquarters to the village of Saranac Lake was taken last week: a subdivision permit that would kick off the village’s plans for a new 70,000-square-foot public safety complex on Petrova Avenue. The proposed complex would allow for the village’s police department to relocate from the historic Paul Smith’s Power and Light Building on Main Street, freeing that space for the APA.
Some have taken issue with the agency’s piecemeal review. They argue it’s ignoring its own rules and regulations that call for analyzing “development proposed for lots, parcels or sites in a subdivision.”
The state allocated $29 million for the agency’s headquarters, which are currently in Ray Brook. APA Executive Director Barbara Rice is spearheading plans to relocate from the complex on state Route 86, which includes State Police, the Department of Environmental Conservation and the Department of Transportation, to the village main street.
The agency, charged with long-range planning for the 6-million-acre mix of public and private lands, is studying the feasibility of the move. The space at 1-3 Main St. cannot accommodate the needs of the agency alone, thus it also plans to build a 19,000-square-foot building behind it and a 72-space parking lot.
Two village residents appeared before the APA board at its monthly meeting, concerned that the APA was not considering the larger scope. The subdivision permit, granted to Citizen Advocates Inc. and Advocate Hostels Holdings Inc., includes the former St. Pius X High School, the Citizen Advocate’s building and a complex of storage buildings. The subdivision permit was granted on Oct. 19 at the staff level. APA Communications Director Keith McKeever said it is a “minor project,” so it does not require a board vote or public comment period.
Mark Wilson of Saranac Lake called the permit “a textbook example of segmentation,” before the APA board on Oct. 12. He is concerned the agency seems to be disregarding the village’s plans to develop the site, and it has a stake in the outcome.
“The reason the agency should share my concern over this application is that you are not a disinterested party in this matter,” he said. “Your interest in relocating agency headquarters to the current building housing the Saranac Lake Police Department will create an urgent need to relocate that headquarters. … I urge the agency to carefully conduct a review of the entire project for which this application is merely the initial segment.”
Mary Thill, also a village resident and wife of Wilson, had similar concerns. She and her husband received responses from the agency that said it “does not have review authority over any hypothetical future conveyances or proposals related to any project site.”
Thill held up the village’s renderings for the public safety complex to the APA board members and noted the number of public meetings held on the plans.
“This is anything but hypothetical,” she said. “I think everyone knows this is part of the project.”
Rice gave a monthly report to board members after. She did not mention the headquarters or address Wilson and Thill’s comments.
McKeever did not respond to multiple requests for comment on Thill and Wilson’s concerns or the status of the agency’s feasibility study.
The subdivision permit involving wetlands creates two lots. Citizen Advocates would keep its building, while the village of Saranac Lake would acquire the 15-acre lot that includes the former school and storage buildings, according to the APA application, for potential “use for emergency services.”
The final issued permit states “no new land use or development is proposed or authorized as part of the project,” despite the application’s acknowledgement of possible future construction on the site. It also notes construction of any new buildings within 100 feet of the edge of wetlands “shall require prior written Agency authorization,” and any activity involving the nearby wetlands will require another permit.
Although the agency has not sought public comment on its proposed headquarters, a records request to the agency turned up 19 pages of letters. The majority are in support of the move, including resolutions from the village of Saranac Lake, the Saranac Lake Area Chamber of Commerce and the town of Harrietstown.
“This is an exciting opportunity to further the APA’s commitment to Adirondack hamlets as the centers for development and actively and to directly further your positive commitment to downtowns, building upon several state investments in recent years in downtown Saranac Lake,” wrote the North Country Chamber of Commerce.
Adirondack Voters for Change requested the agency hold a public meeting to address a “lack of detail.” An earlier letter sent by a cohort of former APA leaders and staff against the relocation was also part of the record.