St. Joseph's wants to change the zoning of a vacant, 3-acre parcel of land near its main campus to accommodate the 10,000-square foot veterans' community residence. But neighbors say the zoning change, and the uses and activities associated with the project, would impact the character of the mostly residential area.
As Chris Knight reports, the two sides met late last week to talk about a compromise.
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At a Saranac Lake Planning Board meeting last month, St. Joseph's CEO Bob Ross said the 25-bed treatment facility would primarily serve soldiers returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. He said St. Joseph's was awarded state funding three years ago for the nearly $3 million project.
"I think that the timiliness of this service has grown since we first applied for it," Ross said, "and the need for that throughout the state is essential, because there are very few places that veterans who have these needs can get the services."
But residents who live near the parcel that would be rezoned have been raising opposition to the proposal. More than 40 of them, like Lionel Arlan, showed up at last month's Planning Board meeting.
"We bought a house here because it was zoned residential, and the abutting land was zoned residential," said Kiwassa Road resident Lionel Arlan. "Now we're under attack of having that changed after we've invested a lot of money in our homes."
The neighbors' specific concerns include visual impacts, noise and light pollution, increased traffic, stormwater impacts and security concerns with the operation of the facility.
Peter Crary also said the rezoning wouldn't be compatible with the village's current or proposed master plan.
"We believe this is a wonderful project at a terrible, terrible location," said Crary.
After getting an earful from residents, Ross promised to take a second look at other sites on St. Joseph's main campus, including ones that had been previously ruled out due to cost and building constraints.
"I will be very clear that we will take a very sincere and arduous attempt and look at that because I think it's the right thing to do," Ross said.
But that didn't quell the controversy. In an editorial last week, the Adirondack Daily Enterprise called on the neighbors to "step out of the way." The paper's managing editor, Peter Crowley noted that St. Joseph's has been providing addiction treatment services in the neighborhood for decades.
"These neighbors don't have much to worry about now, and the veterans facility won't change that," he wrote.
But neighbors like Crary said they support doing more for veterans and said they're not trying to block the project.
"What we're objecting to is placing a large insitutional dormitory in the middle of a residential neighborhood, and we think that St. Joseph's, if they get creative, can find a place for that on their 24-acre uphill campus."
To that end, Ross and other St. Joseph's officials presented another option to the residents in a private meeting Thursday night. It would move the facility just off the three-acre parcel and create a permanent buffer zone between the St. Joe's campus and the site's closest residents. But St. Joe's still wants to rezone a portion of the parcel so it could be used for parking or recreational access for the veterans' residence.
Speaking Sunday evening, Lionel Arlan, one of the neighbors, called moving the facility to a different site "a step forward" but said they don't want to see the parcel rezoned. He also said the residents asked for a more detailed site plan.
Ross said his team is working on a more specific plan to present to the neighbors, sometime next week. St. Joseph's is hoping to get the project approved by the village this winter so construction can begin this summer.