SUPERVISOR SPOTLIGHT: Jay Rand talks about issues facing town
LAKE PLACID — As the town gets ready for the 2023 Winter World University Games, there are a number of issues facing the community, including short-term rentals, tourism, overuse of the High Peaks, the coronavirus pandemic and the state’s new law legalizing recreation marijuana use.
North Elba town Supervisor Jay Rand touched on some of those issues during an interview with Lake Placid News Editor Andy Flynn on Monday, April 12. Below is part of that interview.
LPN: What are some of the biggest issues facing Essex County right now?
Rand: I think a lot of it has been keeping up with the COVID issues this past year. Every day, (Board of Supervisors Chairman) Shaun Gillilland has been in communication with the state of New York and then passing the information on to us. We’ve really not been able to have a lot of face-to-face meetings. It’s all been Zoom. I think last week was the first one we’ve had for quite some time where we actually were in Elizabethtown all together. … A lot of it has been related to the health department and keeping up with clinics and getting transportation restarted.
LPN: What can the town do to help create affordable housing in the town?
Rand: I think we’re doing what we can right at the moment. I know that the (Lake Placid/North Elba Community) Development Commission is always keeping their eyes out for additional properties that might be used in the future. Again, right now, unless somebody basically donates the property, it’s tough to really build anything that’s affordable housing because the material costs and labor costs are extraordinary right now. I’ve heard that over and over.
I think that the Development Commission and our new development director will continue to look for new opportunities and grants and other possibilities to continue to locate (potential properties). But right now, I think we’ve got a good start, especially with the two (Wesvalley Road) projects going on, and there is some affordable housing in that Cell Science Center project.
LPN: What are you expecting for this summer’s tourist season?
Rand: I think we’re going to have another very busy summer. Jim McKenna (president and CEO of the Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism) and Mary Jane Lawrence (ROOST chief operating officer) were at the (county) meeting today and indicated that it’s looking very strong, that people are making reservations ahead of time, and it still looks like they’re going to be looking for more driveable locations. As far as I’m concerned, I’ve never seen it busier even up until this past weekend. I couldn’t believe the number of people in town, and if you tried to go to one of the little restaurants, you’d have waiting lines. In the past, at this time of the year, I don’t think I’ve seen it any busier. … Last year, in spite of the fact that we didn’t have the horse show, we didn’t have Ironman, we didn’t have lacrosse, we didn’t have our marathon, we were as busy as ever.
LPN: Last year proved that we don’t need large events to be busy in Lake Placid. At the same time, the town and village have defined their tourism based on those large events. Are we ever going to have a time without big events?
Rand: Personally, I’d like to see the balance. I think there’s a place and a purpose to have the events, possibly a smaller number of people at the same time. That’s what we’ve been kind of working on with different organizations, to try and find something that can work with the community.
LPN: With balance, that is what ROOST is working on with the destination management plan — the balance between the locals and the visitors. Will the town be involved in that planning process?
Rand: Yes. We all work together pretty well. There’s the vacation management plan, the land-use code that we’re updating and the comprehensive plan.
LPN: You’ve got a lot of planning going on.
Rand: Yeah, we do. We’ll probably be more involved in the comprehensive plan than we are in the land-use code update, and ROOST, with the additional plan, will probably take most of the lead with that. We’re all trying to look down the road so that we can certainly try and accommodate all of our guests in the best degree possible. And now we have the big 2023 World University Games, which we’re all kind of working together. …
Knowing the venues as well as I do, because I had managed three of them — the jumps, the Olympic Sports Complex and Whiteface Mountain — through my career with ORDA (state Olympic Regional Development Authority), it’s no easy task to keep everything updated and maintained. And we really needed a big push to get our venues back in shape; otherwise, we were going to … go downhill fast.
I think ORDA’s doing now a great job getting things done. That biathlon, cross-country, bobsled facility out there is simply first class. I’ve seen a lot of different stadiums in biathlon and cross-country, and this is fabulous. And the jumps, there’s a ton of work going on. They’ve put in refrigerated in-run tracks on both the 120 and the 90 last year and are going to reshape the hills so that it brings us up into all of the homologation standards so we can have international competitions, summer and winter. … This is the first time our kids have jumped just about every day on those hills with no interruptions. …
The rush is on here. Those (2023 Winter World University) Games, probably second to the Olympics in a lot of ways, we really have to be ready. There’s a lot of pressure to do things right, and if we don’t, we could get a big black eye. But my feeling is that we’ve just got to keep everything moving forward. We’ve got fantastic experience at running events at all those facilities. …
That’s one of the reasons that I wanted to run (for supervisor), was to be in office through those games and try and help out any way the town can to make sure that they do go off well.
LPN: Towns have the opportunity to opt out of approving sales of recreational marijuana in their jurisdiction. What are your thoughts on that? Would you be in favor of opting out of that, or are you in favor of sales?
Rand: My personal opinion on marijuana and drugs is I’d do anything to keep it out. But I’m not saying that medicinal marijuana, etc. is one thing, but to have it available for sale on our Main Street, etc., that would be a tough pill for me to swallow. As I said, we haven’t even discussed it or I don’t know enough about it at this point really to make comments that are online, so to speak, you know. It’s just, I think an awful lot of things have to be worked out. And it would be interesting to see what other communities are going to do as well. I go back to things like, how many millions of dollars have we spent nationwide on trying to keep kids from smoking, and now we’re throwing it out there so that marijuana’s OK to smoke? I think there’s just a lot of issues that have to be put on the table and solutions that have to be worked out in proposals. I always try and, as much as possible, look on both sides of the coin and will keep an open mind until everything gets put on the table. But that’s where I start. It’s at the bottom. I’m dead-set against it.
LPN: Just to be clear, your jurisdiction is outside the village limits, between the village of Saranac Lake and village of Lake Placid. Everything outside those village limits is your jurisdiction in the town, correct?
Rand: That’s correct.
LPN: So the town could say, outside the village limits, we could pass a local law banning those adult-use cannabis retail dispensaries or on-site consumption, and that would include Ray Brook, if somebody wanted to set up a dispensary in Ray Brook, that would be illegal if you passed that local law.
And you can’t kick this question down the road because there’s a time limit here, Dec. 31, so between now and the end of December, which is the end of your term, at some point it’s either going to be brought up as a local law or not brought up as a local law.
Rand: That’s all true.
LPN: If somebody did present that, and it got seconded as a motion, you’re saying right now you can’t make a decision whether you would vote for it or against it?
Rand: As I said, right now personally I would vote against it (against sales of recreational marijuana in the town). But I’m obviously, until we have had time to discuss it on the board and get all the facts, then if there’s a strong reason that somebody could present that makes me feel otherwise, then it’s not impossible to change your mind. But right now, I’m against it.
LPN: Do you see any way that the pandemic had changed the way that we do business in Lake Placid?
Rand: I think it’s premature to say. We’re still going string with our tourism. We’re trying to work out our events. … We’re moving forward to the 2023 games. So the basics, to me, seem the same in many ways. Obviously, there’s a lot of people in businesses that have suffered hardships. There’s no question about that. And hopefully, as we move along here, everybody can recover. I think the recovery is probably the biggest challenge. But I don’t really think at this point I can say that things have changed the way we do business. … We’re a tourist-related township.
One thing that’s changed more than ever, thinking along those lines, is just the number of people that want to move here. From what I’ve been told, people have even bought houses they haven’t seen. People, I think, want to get out of the cities more than ever, into open spaces, and they feel safer. So in that respect, I think it’s just brought a lot more attention to us. More people know about us. We’re not the best hidden secret anymore.