By ALVIN REINER
---- — LEWIS — About 30 Lewis residents listened in as town officials talked about the new Comprehensive Plan that is in the works.
The recent meeting at the fire hall was held to introduce the draft of the new plan.
As the presentation was about to begin, Don Huntley, representing the Lewis Volunteer Fire Department, took a minute to voice one of the concerns facing small-town emergency squads: the lack of young members.
“We’re losing volunteers,” he said. “We need to keep people here, people who will get involved. It’s hard to find volunteers with the time and interest.”
Lewis Supervisor David Blades welcomed the citizens to the forum and talked about the ongoing process to create the Comprehensive Plan.
“The core of the plan is complete and covers what Lewis is today, what residents want and what needs to be done,” he said.
“This is a plan, not a law, though it may be the foundation for regulations.”
Land-use planner Brandy Saxton of Place Sense of Port Henry presented the findings of a resident survey, as well as the results of an investigation of the town’s attributes and perceived weaknesses.
In 2010, Lewis received a 2010 Adirondack Smart Growth grant to prepare the Comprehensive Plan, after which a committee was formed and Place Sense hired.
Lewis comprises 84 square miles, 17 percent of which is State Forest Preserve. The 2010 Census reported 1,382 residents.
The town has one of the smallest designated hamlets within the Adirondack Park at 104 acres; not much property in it is left to develop.
According to the assessment, Lewis’s strengths and opportunities include:
▶ Direct access to the Adirondack Northway and being located in proximity to employment centers and major transportation routes.
▶ The opportunity to become a hub for regional facilities.
▶ Meadowmount School of Music.
▶ Its significant base of working land and resource industries.
Listed as threats and challenges were:
▶ Potential development of land at Exit 32 is limited, and that area is not currently a welcoming and appealing entrance to Lewis.
▶ Broadband Internet and cellphone service is not available townwide.
▶ Lewis has few places for visitors to stay or eat.
“Expanding the hamlet would create an incentive for growth in Lewis to be focused in our historic center rather than dispersed along rural roads,” the plan says.
“More people living in the hamlet would strengthen the sense of community in Lewis and help support local businesses.
“There are factors that currently may inhibit hamlet expansion, such as a lack of a municipal sewer system and (the existence of) wetlands located north of the current hamlet.”
“You are facing an uphill battle on expansion, so creating a mile-long strip on Route 9 is not advisable,” Saxton said.
Similar to other towns along that road, the completion of the Adirondack Northway led to a decline of businesses reliant on tourism.
Logging and mineral extraction provide for much of the economy, though about 70 businesses were found to be located in the town.
Lewis resident Karen Brown expressed her concerns about Northway Exit 32, that it is not welcoming to travelers.
Saxton indicated there are limitations to signage, though there is the possibility, such as at the Warrensburg exit, where landscaping could be incorporated.
Brown also asked whether Thrall Dam could become a swimming area. Saxton said this would be difficult and would require a new dam and dredging.
CONCERNS ABOUT APA
“I love this area,” Jim Jackson said. “There are many things I see as positive, but I caution the people here. I see very few in this room under 40 (years of age).
“I am cautious of a Comprehensive Plan. This is an opening in the town that could be giving the APA more control.”
Blades said they “are aware that this could be a problem. We have met with the APA to see where we could get control back.”
However, Jackson still had concerns over “making deals with the devil.”
A discussion ensued over property owners keeping their lots aesthetically pleasing and safe.
“Seems like maintenance codes are a prime concern,” Blades said. “We need local laws with more teeth and laws that can be enforced.”
“We have looked at laws in other towns that deal with messes and health hazards,” Saxton said.
Elizabethtown Town Councilor Evelyn Hatch, who has worked on that town’s planning, described it as “a very long process and a lot of work. Before you can do anything, you have to have a comprehensive plan. I commend you.
“We have many of the same problems in Elizabethtown, such as an older population, (and a need for) economic growth and enticing people to come and stay.”
Once the plan is completed, Blades cautioned, “the biggest thing is not to let the plan just sit on a shelf and gather dust.
“Residents need to remind us to go forward.”
“The town should look at the smaller, more immediate items,” Saxton said, comparing it to a Christmas wish list.
“What money is available will shift over time, such as emergency preparedness,” she said. “By having a comprehensive plan, it makes you more competitive for monies.
“The plan should be looked at every few years.”
Email Alvin Reiner: firstname.lastname@example.org
The Lewis Comprehensive Plan Committee will meet at 6:30 p.m. Jan. 8 and Feb. 12 at the Lewis Town Hall. Meetings are open to the public.
There will be another session in February on the draft plan, and, if all goes smoothly, adoption is set for March 2014. View the plan at www.lewisny.com or at the Town Hall.