Earlier this week, the Lake Placid village board approved the environmental review and findings from a public hearing related to eminent domain actions for an infrastructure project. It’s a move that the owner of the property says violates New York state’s eminent domain procedural laws.
The Lake Placid Main Street Reconstruction Project would replace sewer lines and build a new parking garage in the center of the village. In February trustees were told that a vacant space owned by the Adirondack Museum had been identified as a prime location. According to the minutes of the regular board meeting on February 21st, village attorney Janet Bliss told trustees, “If the Village were to acquire the Museum property, absent any agreement with the owner, the process would be an eminent domain proceeding whereby the Village would take that property for an approved and established public purpose.” At the time, according to the minutes, Mayor Craig Randall noted there had been on and off discussions with the museum for the village to obtain the property, but no agreement was reached.
The village board decided to move forward with eminent domain proceedings.
On Monday, the board held a special procedural meeting, irking the owner of the property, The Adirondack Museum recently changed its name to the Adirondack Experience, the Museum at Blue Mountain Lake. Director David Kahn is critical of the process and this most recent meeting. “They called this meeting during which they read the findings. However there’s a clause in the eminent domain law that indicates they can only do that if they have authorization under some other law or regulation. So basically what they did was hold an illegal meeting.”
Another of Kahn’s criticisms is that no public comments were taken during Monday’s session. Mayor Randall says that’s because it was a special meeting for the sole purpose to consider a SEQR (State Environmental Quality Review) resolution. “When we did the original SEQR for the Main Street project we had not at that time made a decision to acquire the museum property by eminent domain. And eminent domain has a particular requirement in it that requires us to consider on the basis of SEQR. And the findings of the board based upon our engineering people and other people here in the village is that there are no adverse environmental impacts at least that cannot be mitigated.”
Mayor Randall says there have been a number of efforts since 2011 to negotiate with the museum to obtain the lot. “At that time we had the property appraised and offers and discussions have made over six years and they have basically gone no place. Most recently the museum came back with their own opinion that the value was almost double our appraisals indicated the village could pay as a fair market value for the property.”
But the he said-he said quarrel continues. Kahn believes the decision to take the museum’s property has been pre-ordained by village trustees. “Mayor Randall has been making statements for months that negotiations over the possible sale of this property broke down. If they broke down that’s because they walked away from them. There’s never been a formal written offer for the property. So I think it’s pretty clear that they made up their minds in advance that rather than negotiate for the acquisition of the property they were going to pursue eminent domain and try to get the property for the lowest possible price.”
On March 14th the village assessor revoked the museum property’s tax exempt status and diminished its assessed value from $1,188,000 to $850,000, a 28 percent change. The museum is considering filing lawsuits against the town of North Elba and village of Lake Placid.