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Locals pan developer’s request for law exemption

The building that once housed the W. Alton Jones Cell Science Center in Lake Placid would be replaced with several housing buildings in a development plan proposed by Joseph Barile. (News photo — Peter Crowley)

LAKE PLACID — A developer has requested an exemption from the town of North Elba’s affordable housing regulations as he seeks to build a new housing complex at the former W. Alton Jones Cell Science Center, but multiple Lake Placid residents panned the idea during a public hearing on Wednesday, Aug. 5.

The North Elba Town Council is expected to vote in the next few weeks on a land reclassification request from local developer Joseph Barile, who is asking that an Old Barn Road property be reclassified from “gateway corridor” to “planned development.” Attached to that reclassification is a request from Barile that he be exempt from Section 5.6 of the town’s land use code, which outlines standards for the development of income-based housing and requires him to either establish a set number of affordable housing units within his proposed complex or pay a fee into a nonprofit housing fund.

The developer’s request is further complicated by an option agreement he signed weeks ago. That option, transferred to Barile from the town of North Elba earlier this year in a deal brokered by the Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism, gives him the exclusive right to purchase the Old Barn Road property where he wants to build the new housing complex. But the agreement requires that he cap rent for at least 66% of the new units he builds to a price that’s affordable to someone making up to 150% of the area median income. That income threshold is higher than the town’s definition of what’s considered “affordable housing,” which is a unit affordable to someone making up to 120% of the area median income.

If Barile were to choose to rent his rent-capped units at a price that meets the agreement’s 150% AMI requirement, instead of at a price for those who make 120% AMI, he could be required to pay a fee into a nonprofit housing fund, which Barile has said he doesn’t want to do.

A town-commissioned housing needs assessment released in January identified those who make less than 50% of the area median income as having the highest need for housing in this area.

“I see no justification to give a complete waiver from a law that this community has spent over 10 years trying to develop and try to build,” William Hurley, chairman of the North Elba-Lake Placid Joint Review Board, told the town council. Hurley said he was speaking as a citizen, not as a member of the board.

Hurley shared concerns he has with the development, primarily that there isn’t a residency requirement attached to Barile’s option agreement. Hurley said he believes the lack of a residency requirement, paired with the cap on rent, leaves the door open for non-residents to rent the apartments as a long-term vacation accommodation and sublet the units.

“I’ve been told that this is a game changer, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Hurley said. “Yes, it is. It’s also a game changer and a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to create housing for people who live here.”

Peter Roland, a Lake Placid resident speaking on behalf of the Lake Placid-North Elba Community Development Commission’s Joint Community Housing Committee, said the group also doesn’t see why Barile should be granted an exemption.

“We see no reason why any developer should be exempt from Section 5.6 of the land use code,” he said. “Without some controls, we believe these apartments have the potential to become vacation homes.”

Lake Placid Mayor Craig Randall, who was listening in on the public hearing, spoke up to say he agreed with Roland.

Molly Mayer, another Lake Placid resident, noted that this project was initially billed as an affordable housing project.

“I would like to see our elected officials stand by that,” she said.

The council’s approval of the land reclassification is one of the last hurdles before Barile can move forward with submitting site plans to the Joint Review Board.

Barile acquired his exclusive purchase rights through an option agreement brokered by ROOST between the town of North Elba and the property owner, PEG Enterprises, which was founded by Adirondack Trading Company owner Gregory Peacock, Mirror Lake Inn owner Ed Weibrecht and the late J. Patrick Barrett, former chairman of the state Olympic Regional Development Authority Board of Directors. Barrett also owned the Whiteface Club and Resort with Weibrecht.

ROOST was in contact with Barile months prior to him acquiring the exclusive rights.

If built, the complex would first be used for athlete housing during the 2023 World University Games. ROOST CEO James McKenna was involved with Lake Placid’s bid for the games in his position as a member of the Adirondack North Country Sports Council.

After the games are over, the complex would be used for long-term residential housing.

The sprawling campus on Old Barn Road could include 20 different buildings covered with solar panels, some with underground parking garages beneath them. It would also have an amphitheater with solar panels and a renewable energy tower, playing fields, an outdoor terrace, a trail network, a pool, a day-care center and multiple parking areas, according to the project designs. The former Cell Science Center building would be demolished.

The complex would include a mix of apartments for rent, condos for sale and townhouses for lease.