It was a standing room only crowd at Monday night’s Schroon Town Board Meeting -- with more the two and a half hours of it devoted to one single topic: an old road on the Woods Property.
Late Friday the topic was added to the board’s agenda, as the Woods new property owner, Julia Pitkin-Shantz, sought to get a resolution from the Town Board which addressed the relocation of the road, in order for her to meet a grant deadline to help re-finance the redevelopment of the property.
Around 90 people packed the meeting to discuss the proposal. Preliminary drawings were distributed by Julia showing the approximate scope and scale of the plan, which includes a new Inn with 30 rooms, a restaurant with outdoor seating, a health club and indoor/outdoor pool, and a restored lake house which would feature 5 suites. There will also be a dock for boaters to pull up to and dine at the restaurant.
The drawings clearly showed that one of the new buildings, the new Inn on Schroon Lake (Formerly Woods Lodge), would be built over a town access road.
In order for Julia to submit her grant, she needed the town’s agreement that it would consider moving the road. The grant deadline is August 12th at 4pm.
In the end she got what she wanted: a resolution passed by the board that will allow her to move forward:
The Town Board resolves that it will undertake to relocate the eastern terminus portion of Fairfield Ave if appropriate public access is provided on the property of the Inn on Schroon Lake LLC, and or 54 Leland LLC and if a suitable location is identified as acceptable to the town board, such relocated public access to be
1. To be limited to non vehicle pedestrian access only
2. Including minimum 20 foot width for town use for drainage storm-water or any other public purpose.
3. The relocation effort only to be implemented only upon issuance of a building permit for the Inn on Schroon Lake, project scope similar to that proposed to the town board on July 8, 2013.
But that came after a very lively conversation. One of the first speakers was Beth Champeau, whose business, the Chamlar Lakefront Family Resort and Cottages, shares the Woods property’s northern border.
Beth, who runs Chamlar and is the trustee of the trust that owns the property, made several impassioned pleas to the board that she could not make a decision about how she felt moving the road on such short notice, only learning about the meeting on Friday.
“As the trustee I have certain fiducary duties. I cannot possibly say yea or nay to what’s being presented here tonight . I have a great interest here as the only adjoining property owner. I have to be able to speak to professionals and how my decision would impact the trusteeship.
She said it would be impossible to meet with her New York City based lawyers until after Labor Day (well passed the grant deadline).
In at least five separate addresses to the board she expressed her concerns about where the road might be located, and what the impact would be if it was moved to the Woods properties far northern border, which is right next to buildings on the Chamlar property. She repeated she needed guidance from other outside sources.
“I need time. I am not saying yea or nay.”
Julia said it would be economically unfeasible, to build the new Inn where the current Inn now stands.
She outlined the positive economic impact the new Inn on Schroon Lake development would have on Schroon -- providing 15 new year-round jobs in its first year and by year 7, double that to 30.
“When people have jobs they spend money in town. All I am asking for tonight is to be able to relocate the road -- not where.”
She said she hoped she Beth, Town Supervisor Mike Mike Marnell and Superintend of Highways, Dana Shaugnessy, could work together to resolve any issues.
Mike Marnell suggested that if the road was to be relocated it could be a “non vehicle road”.
Multiple speakers took the floor and gave their opinions about whether the road was really a road (it is -- according to other attorneys at the meeting) how much use it gets (apparently not a lot) and how those who use it to launch kayaks, would be inconvenienced if it went away.
The buzz word of the evening was “compromise” with multiple speakers saying that’s what it would take to make everyone happy
One of Beth’s daughters, Valerie, suggested a compromise which involved redesigning Julia’s plans, so the access road would stay exactly where it is -- in effect splitting the Inn into two piece.
Others expressed concerns that if the town abandoned the road, what precedent it might set for other land owners, who have property split by public access roads.
The reoccurring theme from the majority of the speakers was that they were in favor of the project, and the positive impact it will have on the town in attracting more visitors, more dollars, more jobs, and the potential to revitalize Main Street.
“If we don’t step into the future this town is going nowhere. We have just a few nice B&Bs. We don’t have any modern hotel rooms,” said Schroon Lake seasonal resident David Kaufman, a tourism expert who teaches a course on Tourism and hospitality at the University of Vermont.
At times the meeting got a little off track when speakers started addressing each other about their motives.
“You knew when you bought the property there was a public access road was there, so why not design the property around it,” two speakers asked Julia.
After everyone had spoken -- Julia’s lawyer Gary Hobbs summarized what his client's plans were: Not to close off the access road and for the board to approve a resolution about the relocation of the road wholly within the property -- provided the relocation was acceptable to the town.
“We have two lawyers here. Surely they can work something out tonight,” Julia said.
“If I can’t get a resolution passed tonight which will allow me to satisfy the state of NY grant application requirements, I can’t proceed with this development project. I absolutely need the grant money for this to work,” Julia told Schroon Laker during a five minute recess. Julia and her lawyer voiced the same sentiment clearly, during the town meeting.
Before the resolution was read, by Town Attorney Mark Schachner, Town Board member Clara Phibbs gave the assembled crowd and fellow board members a stern warning.
“I have concerns about the grant date -- that I’m not sure we should be pushed when we are asking questions right up until the moment to write a resolution which is going to affect us all down the road one way or the other. We don't even have our act together we are obviously reacting to a push date. It’s happened here before and decisions made under this kind of stress are usually not good decisions long term.
“I think we are rushing this for one reason -- grant money...how long does it take to write a grant? I don’t know..why did we just hear Friday about this meeting?”
Julia responded: “I don't think I have any interest, at this point after what I’ve heard tonight, to put it (the relocated road) on the north end of the property (next to Chamlar). So can you let me work with the landscape architects and my architect to figure out where the right place is to put the pedestrian access ? -- That’s what I would like. Lets get this done tonight.”
In the end the resolution was passed, with Marnell, Council members Meg Woods and Don Sage voting yes. Roger Friedman abstained. Clara Phibbs voted no.
We asked Julia and Beth for comment today. Beth was unavailable and we left a message. We will publish her reply when she gets back to us.
Julia told us: “”It has been a shock that we came to an agreement. I feel gratitude for the support for the project.”
What do you think? Tell us in comments.