LAKE PLACID - A request for free parking by organizers of a community lunch program prompted a larger debate on how this village's Board of Trustees should handle such requests during Monday night's regular meeting.
In June, Denise Calvert of Lake Placid wrote Trustee Art Devlin on behalf of the volunteers with the Lake Placid-North Elba Community Lunch Program, which serves up a free hot meal to people in need every Wednesday at Adirondack Community Church.
"We are all local volunteers and sustain the program through donations," Calvert wrote. "As you know, parking can be difficult during the summer months. It would be so helpful to our volunteers if we would be able to place a sign inside our cars indicating our volunteer status for the Wednesday lunch program, thus avoiding the meter charges of a ticket."
The board unanimously denied a request to provide several free parking spots in the metered municipal lot across from the church. Instead, trustees voted to set aside parking spots directly in front of the church on Parkside Drive, where parking is free.
Mayor Craig Randall said if the board approved the request, it would establish precedent.
"If we do it for one organization, we literally have to do it for all, in my opinion," he said.
Trustee Zay Curtis said it would be a nice thing for the board to do, but "everybody in this town volunteers for something all the time.
"And if we start giving out passes for everybody that's volunteering up in town, we're going to be giving up a lot of parking revenue," he said.
"Then we get back to (the state Olympic Regional Development Authority) saying, 'We've got a neat convention here of great people, and we want free parking,' and the doctors (saying), 'We need parking for our patients,'" Curtis continued. "We can't do it. We depend on the revenue."
Trustee Jason Leon said the board has made exceptions in the past. He suggested the village set up some cones to reserve spots in front of the church so lunch program volunteers can bring in food on Wednesdays.
Curtis again insisted the board shouldn't make exceptions.
"I'm going to write down what you just said so the next time there is something different coming up you may be having a different perspective on, I'll remind you," Leon said.
"Write it down," Curtis said.
Curtis said the village is working hard to hold taxes down.
"Every time we give something away, that dollar's gotta be picked up by somebody else somewhere," he said.
Leon noted that Parkside Drive doesn't have meters, so the village isn't making money off spaces there. Curtis said he wants to install parking meters there.
"These are churchgoing folk who are literally feeding people from Saranac Lake," Leon said. "That may be their only meal."
"So you want to give the needy people going to eat, too? You want to give them free parking, too?" Curtis asked.
"They usually come on buses, because they don't have cars," Leon responded. "We could charge them, if we really needed the money. I'm just saying there are ways we could be a little creative to at least accommodate getting the food there in order for them to prepare it."
Curtis made the motion to respectfully deny the request from the lunch program. Leon offered an amendment to the motion to deny any similar request for free parking. He said it should be all or nothing.
"That's the most fair," he said.
Village attorney Janet Bliss said Leon's proposed amendment would be akin to setting a board policy, which she said should be a separate action. Leon relented, instead offering a separate resolution to let the church's caretaker, former village police Chief Scott Monroe, set up cones to reserve three spots in front of the church.
That resolution was unanimously approved.
Randall said the debate over the request should prompt a larger discussion on parking on Parkside Drive. He said the spots are often taken up by people who work downtown, leaving less parking for visitors to the village's public beach on Mirror Lake.
Randall said the solution might be two-hour parking limits or meters. He said trustees will begin looking into the situation soon.