By Gwendolyn Craig
The owners of Saranac Lake Marina on Lower Saranac Lake are also looking to upgrade their Upper Saranac Marina, though they’ve hit a delay.
The Santa Clara Town Board passed a moratorium on commercial development in the zoning district that includes the marina, while the town works to upgrade its zoning regulations. It currently does not have any zoning rules for marinas. There are other businesses affected by the moratorium, too, including the Saranac Inn Golf Club, Donaldson’s “Knapp’s Trading Post” and The Point, a hotel.
The moratorium was passed as part of a local law during the Feb. 11 meeting and following a couple of public hearings and comment periods. It will last through June 30, though language in the local law suggests the moratorium could end sooner or be extended. The law has gone through a couple of iterations, loosening its prohibitions so businesses can conduct maintenance and smaller repairs.
Councilman Marcel “Mickey” Webb said the town wanted to see the old marina, formerly called Hickok’s, bought and fixed up, “but as a small town with a limited population, we also felt we needed some expert guidance” on zoning regulations. The town has hired The Chazen Companies, an engineering and land planning firm, for $5,950 to assist the board in that process.
“We’re definitely in support of moving this ahead as quickly as we can, but we’re being very methodical,” Webb said, during a Town Board meeting on Jan. 14.
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Michael Damp, managing partner of the company that owns the marinas, called LS Marina, said the former Hickok’s was on the market for four years. The marina’s website says the company purchased the property last August.
“We did not want to see another commercial property go out of business in the area,” Damp said, in an email to the Adirondack Explorer. “Upper Saranac is a Natural fit, we run a really nice professional operation and look forward to servicing the lake community.”
The marina has been around for nearly a century and serves mostly residents and campers from the nearby state Department of Environmental Conservation’s Fish Creek Campground.
Damp said he looks forward to working with the town and others “to create a self-sustaining marina for years to come.” He did not elaborate about his plans are for upgrading the marina.
The town received comments from the public pertaining to the moratorium and most were in favor, though Damp spoke against it.
The Upper Saranac Lake Association, which has about 550 members, sent a letter to the Town Board in support of the moratorium. In anticipation of more development from the DEC and private property owners, the lake association has expanded its government affairs committee, the letter read.
Larry Koch, the organization’s president, and Dave Powalyk, the vice president, asked the town to consider other items outside of zoning including an area impact study. Quoting comments sent to the DEC for its upgrades to the Fish Creek Campground unit management plan, the lake association said there should be “a study of both campground and pond capacity to handle the camper/boat load. An overloaded facility increases sound, light and groundwater pollution along with additional traffic and garbage.”
DEC and the Adirondack Park Agency have discussed studying boat capacities for lakes. It’s unclear when they will undertake that or how staff time would be devoted to it.
During a virtual hearing on Jan. 14, Damp said he opposed the moratorium. He did read the Upper Saranac Lake Association letter, which also addressed boat speed limits and safety items. Damp said he and his staff preach safety to customers and “are more restrictive on our boat rental customers than the state or any other boat rental outfit in the area.”
“It just seems like we’re wasting a lot of resources on this moratorium to stop development on a marina,” Damp said.
One nearby neighbor to the marina, Chuck Bechtel, spoke during the public hearings and submitted written comments.
Bechtel said he wanted the DEC and APA to make sure whatever is done on the property is in order, though he supports new development. The marina is on Fish Creek, which flows into Upper Saranac. Bechtel said he was worried about any docks that might be proposed, and the slim waterway turning into a “marine version of Nascar on July 4 weekend,” with boaters, water skiers, tubers and personal watercraft riders.
Matthew Norfolk, attorney for Damp, argued that lakes and the watershed are outside the jurisdiction of the town.
“You’re looking at land use and zoning here,” Norfolk said. “We’ve heard about boat capacity. That is not the town’s jurisdiction. … This is our entire gripe, if you will. We have this moratorium in place. We’re concerned there’s going to be other issues brought in. … We’re going to easily be here next year in January, and there will be the moratorium in place, and the business will be strangled.”
Norfolk said the town does need regulations, and he was willing to work with the board on those.
Koch, at the hearing, said “what happens on the land directly affects what happens in the water.”
If the town lacked jurisdiction, “you’d be applying for dock space out on the lake to DEC and not the town,” Koch said. “DEC should be involved, but it also means the town should be involved. Otherwise, based on what you said, we could put an oil refinery there as long as it’s not in the lake.”
Ultimately the Town Board voted unanimously for the moratorium. It will be meeting with The Chazen Companies starting this month.
Damp is facing a second delay, at the Lower Saranac Lake marina. Though the APA approved permits for his expansion at that property, a pending lawsuit is now stalling it. Former DEC Commissioner Tom Jorling is suing the APA, DEC and LS Marina for “many legal errors” in their approval of the expansion from 219 to 292 boats and other renovation plans. Norfolk has called that proceeding “frivolous” and “egregious,” and said the state “spent a lot of resources reviewing this.”
An Essex County judge has signed a temporary restraining order preventing Damp from doing any work there. Latest court records show virtual oral arguments are slated for 10 a.m. on March 26 before Judge Richard Meyer in Essex County Supreme Court.
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