LAKE GEORGE -- The Village Board unanimously approved a set of zoning changes Monday night that allow for buildings of up to six stories in some areas of Canada Street, paving the way for a major chain hotel project and other potential future development in the largely seasonal resort community.
"The changes will be enormous, high quality and will last for years to come," Lake George Mayor Robert Blais said.
Roughly 30 people attended Monday's meeting, and about half of them spoke during the public hearing. Some posed questions and spoke out against the proposal, but speakers who supported the project outnumbered the opponents.
Changing village zoning to allow for taller buildings in much of the village's commercial district, concentrated mostly on the west side of Canada Street, has been ongoing for about a year now.
Last summer, developer Dave Kenny proposed a large chain hotel for Canada Street north of the intersection with Amherst Street. The potential multi-million dollar investment in the village, and the desire among officials to grow the village tax base that's declined over the past three years, sparked the discussions.
"I'm so damn happy they didn't ride around and pick a big spot in the town, or the town of Queensbury," Blais said Monday. "They picked the village of Lake George."
The new zoning district allows for buildings of up to four stories in some parts of the village, and buildings of up to six stories in others.
Until Monday, building heights in the village were capped at three stories or 40 feet. The proposed new district would allow buildings of up to six stories, or 72 feet, along parts of the west side of Canada Street and on several other select parcels where property owners have asked to be included in the district. Buildings of up to four stories, or 52 feet, would be permitted through the rest of the village on the west side of Canada Street in the commercial resort and commercial mixed-use zones.
The zoning changes also incorporate architectural and design standards for buildings into the village code, which gives officials more control over building orientation, proportion, material, color and roof design for newly constructed buildings and facade renovations on existing buildings.
The hotel and conference center Kenny has proposed for Canada Street hasn't been designed yet, he said Monday night.
Kenny isn't the only developer who has expressed interest in building vertically since the zoning change discussions began in the village, Blais said.
Vinnie Crocitto, a Lake George Town Board member, said he spoke at the public hearing as a local hotel owner and not a town official, and he voiced support for Kenny as a local developer "with a good track record," and the zoning changes.
"If this isn't the project, if this isn't the economic engine to move forward, what is?" Crocitto said.
Village Attorney Mark Schachner pointed out that even with the approval of the zoning amendments, future building projects will still be subject to site plan review by the village Planning Board, which looks at the development's proposed impact on sewer capacity and other potential issues.
The Adirondack Park Agency approved the village's zoning amendments last month, but individual projects that exceed three stories in the village will still need to go to the agency for approval.
Chris Navitsky of the Lake George Waterkeeper asked officials to hold off on zoning changes that could mean increased development until low-impact design standards are implemented, and there's "measured improvement" at the village wastewater treatment plant. The village is borrowing money to start an upgrade project at the plant, but Navitsky during the public hearing encouraged the board to hold off until that's completed.
John Carr, owner of Adirondack Pub & Brewery, has a year-round business, but that wasn't the case several years ago, he said.
Carr called the village's pedestrian-friendly environment important, but said the visitors he gets during the shoulder seasons don't have many other places to go on Canada Street.
"Unfortunately, those travelers don't go any farther than 33 Canada St. because there's nothing open," Carr said, referring to his business.
Ralph Macchio, who owns the Wild West Ranch, said the zoning changes appeared to be the most significant business change in the village in a century.
"You catch what you can in those two months as a businessman, and then damn everything else you're closed for the rest of the year," Macchio said.
Many of the height plan opponents have voiced concern it would change the character of the village, obstruct lake and mountain views and have a negative environmental impact, while others questioned whether allowing for taller buildings would provide an economic boost that could result in more year-round business and development.
"Just a building doesn't mean anything other than a building," local resident Barbara Neubauer said.
Blais likened the opposition to the Lake George plan to controversy over the traffic circle in downtown Glens Falls when that was proposed, which he called one of the biggest improvements in the city in years.
"Change breeds fear in many people," Blais said.
Blais, who has been mayor for more than four decades, said Kenny's proposal provides a unique opportunity for the village.
"With the exception of the Fort William Henry hotel, I've never seen anyone come to village with a gift like this," Blais said.