Communities throughout the Adirondack Park, upstate New York and much of rural America are confronting aging and declining populations, a lack of year-round jobs, limited affordable housing and shrinking school enrollments.
The Town of Lake George faces many if not all of those challenges. Unlike most communities, though, it’s developing a strategy to address them.
At the end of September, the Town’s Comprehensive Plan Advisory Committee and its consultant, the Chazen Companies, held a four-day community-wide charrette at the Fort William Henry Conference Center and the Town Hall.
Among the recommendations that emerged through that process were many that would enable the town to attract and retain young people. And many of those may become part of a Comprehensive Plan that will guide development in the town over the next several years, if not decades.
“This a vision for the community,” said Paul Cummings of the Chazen Companies.
The flight of local graduates, the inability to attract young families and the aging of the population “are the result of many factors, and the response has to be equally complex and multi-layered,” said Cummings.
The image of the community itself is not an insignificant obstacle to attracting and retaining young people, the consultants concluded.
“Lake George is commonly perceived as a carnival, where cheap trinkets are sold,” reported Amanda Magee at a meeting at the Town Hall on September 27, when the findings of the charrette were presented.
“But you have the power to change that,” said Magee, a partner in Trampoline Design, a firm retained by Chazen Companies to assist with the process.
Trampoline’s task was to translate the vision of Lake George as a place attractive to a broader mix of tourists and younger, potential residents into a brand that could be marketed abroad and appreciated at home.
“We want to give the community a banner it can wave,” said Sean Magee, also a Trampoline partner. “What that banner should be, that’s up to the community,” he added.
Nevertheless, Trampoline’s team presented five different concepts, all building upon the town’s existing assets, any one of which could be the foundation for Lake George’s new brand.
Whatever the form that brand might take, it should appeal to young people who are interested in outdoor activities, the consultants said. Lake George’s proximity to existing or potential recreational resources is perhaps its greatest asset, said Paul Cummings.
Moreover, he added, those for whom outdoor activities are essential ingredients of a good life also tend to be well educated, enjoy disposable incomes and share other positive characteristics of their generation.
“They’re mobile; once they decide where they want to live, they figure out how to make a living. That’s one of the benefits of telecommuting,” said Cummings.
Living in conventional, suburban sub-divisions may have no appeal for them, said Cummings. One of the recommendations that may find its way into a Comprehensive Plan, then, might be clustered housing, within walking distance of whatever amenities may develop.
The Town also has the authority to remove whatever restrictions may exist on home-based or cottage industries, especially if they are tech or arts related, said Cummings.
Helping young people, whether they be locals or transplants, establish new businesses should also be a priority, said Chris Rounds, another Chazen consultant.
That might entail creating an office of “business concierge,” which could help steer a young person through the regulatory and financing process.
The town’s Comprehensive Plan Advisory Committee will continue to meet until a draft is presented to the Town Board, which will hold public hearings before a final plan is adopted.
“This plan will reflect your vision for the community, not ours,” Supervisor Dennis Dickinson told those who attended the charrette’s final session.
Photo above by Tracy Buyce Photography; below, One of several branding concepts presented by Trampoline Design to the Comprehensive Plan Advisory Committee.