Free parking in the heart of the village here is hanging over touchy sale-or-lease negotiations between a business owner and the Village Board of Trustees.
The "Sears" parking lot is 1.491 acres of paved, lined and ordered parking off Main Street within a few dozen feet from most of the downtown stores, banks, the town and village offices and courts.
The property is owned by Phil Vivlamore, president of Sears Holding Corp., based in Potsdam, and business partner John L. Mullen of Malone.
For 10 years, ending April 30, village trustees leased the lot for $150 per month with an agreement that village Public Works crews would pave, paint, plow and otherwise maintain the open space for access to busy village commerce.
In the course of that time, village taxpayers spent nearly $100,000 in maintenance supplies and labor for parking lot upkeep, said Mayor Clyde Rabideau.
Parking has always been kept free, a precedent set by the former building and lot owner Henry Trotter, who opened the Sears location a few years after J.J. Newberry five-and-dime store closed.
To renew the lease, Vivlamore and Mullen asked for $2,000 per month under the same maintenance terms.
The village rejected the increased lease deal and owners of the Sears offered to sell the property to Saranac Lake for $265,000.
The village council obtained and paid for a third-party appraisal, which came in at $200,000, Rabideau said.
A counter offer from Vivlamore has dropped the price by about $30,000.
And there it sits.
"We are prohibited by law from paying more than fair market value for the property," Rabideau said of municipal land purchases.
The Saranac Lake Area Chamber of Commerce briefly offered earlier this month to take on management of the lot and charge for parking, but pulled the idea when village business owners raised concerns about the loss of free parking downtown.
Vivlamore considered making the lot exclusively private parking, and on July 1, barricaded the back entrance to one-way St. Bernard Street that leads south to Route 3 intersection at Riverside Park.
Saranac Lake village trustees had corner marks spray-painted to indicate where nine parallel parking spaces could fit in front of the parking lot entrance on Main Street should it be closed.
Contacted Thursday, Vivlamore said the lot remains open to the public via the front entrance and exit loop.
"We were in the process of shutting off both entrances, but we did stop that because both sides (of sale negotiations) came to the table. We are in the midst of negotiations and hopefully there will be a positive result."
Vivlamore would not comment further on property sale talks, only to say "it is in the best interest for all the taxpayers of the village to own the parking lot."
But a number of rights-of-way have cropped up in the deal, including access rights to an underground liquid propane tank on the lot that supplies fuel to the Sears building.
The revised purchase agreement also cordons off 20-foot rights-of-way along the north and east sides of the Sears building, plus a right-of-way from Main Street for tractor-trailer deliveries.
The agreement would require the village to plow those as well as the main parking area.
Through their attorney, sellers (Vivlamore and Muller) offered to pay to survey the rights-of-way only after Saranac Lake signs the contract.
The buried propane tank takes up about one parking spot in a back portion of the lot barricaded by metal poles filled with concrete, according to Village Manager John Sweeney, who walked the designated rights-of-way to assess how they encroach on the 1.491-acre lot.
"The (village) board had questions about the rights-of-way," Sweeney said Thursday.
"At least we know, in essence, what they're looking to sell."
Responding to the idea of owning a buried fuel tank, Rabideau said, "hazardous material on municipal property is a poor precedent."
The village cannot buy above fair market value, he said, and "their $232,000 asking price is extraordinarily out of line given the (rights-of-way and restrictions)."
Vivlamore said his business inherited the lease with the village when they bought the property from Trotter several years ago.
He did not offer a timeline or otherwise indicate there are any further plans to alter access to free public parking on the property.
"As long as everybody's at the table and everybody's talking, then it will stay open," he said.
The village is currently not paying to lease or maintaining the parking lot.
"It's private property," Rabideau said.
E-mail Kim Smith Dedam at: firstname.lastname@example.org