LAKE PLACID — Citing numerous closures in the retail sector, a Lake Placid businessman claims the town’s sign regulations and untrimmed trees along U.S. 27 are hurting business.
At Monday’s town council meeting, GHC Motorsports owner Jeff Cowell said he wanted to talk about the “health” of the business climate in Lake Placid.
Several merchants have gone out of business in this area, he said.
“It concerns me greatly,” Cowell said. “I will give you some examples - the bowling alley, most notably Burger King; a lot of the businesses between Advanced Auto and W&W Lumber have gone out of business in that area. The Winn-Dixie shopping plaza is not very filled with occupancy.”
There are several vacancies on Interlake Boulevard, he said.
“As representatives of our city, I think you should all be concerned about this because it seems to be a growing trend,” Cowell told the council.
He said it is difficult to do business in Lake Placid.
Cowell called for changes to the town’s “restrictive” sign ordinance saying it is “very, very punitive towards business, my business especially.”
Also, Cowell believes there are too many trees and shrubs, which were put in a couple a years ago.
“These trees and shrubs have grown to a point where they are starting to hinder the view from the highway towards our businesses,” he said. “I pay a lot of money to have my business on U.S. 27.”
His business is on the highway because people go by and see the sign and the business, which entices them to shop at his store, Cowell said.
He has not seen any effort to trim the trees back so motorists on U.S. 27 can see the businesses, he said.
“Between Advanced Auto and W&W Lumber, you choked out those businesses with the tree growth there,” Cowell said.
The U.S. 27 beautification project, which included trees in the median and on the side of the highway, was a joint effort between Keep Lake Placid Beautiful and the Greater Lake Placid Chamber of Commerce. It was funded in part by a series of grants.
Councilman Steve Bastardi said he understood what Cowell was describing, calling it a “negative spiral” in the town’s business community.
“This is a very difficult town to do business in,” he said. “I see it in my business; I see it with everyone who struggles to run a business here.”
Trying to formulate a plan to address it has always escaped the town council, Bastardi said.
“We try to do things that will have a positive end result, but in the end we don’t control what the business community does,” he said. “We may put rules in place that are perceived as hindering in some ways.”
Concerning the difficulties of operating a retail business in town, Bastardi said: “I don’t know if having a blimp, flying a blimp, would solve the problem. I think the problem runs so much deeper than that.”
Bastardi believes half of the properties are unoccupied half of the year, making it difficult to run a business in a town where people don’t live full-time.
Concerning the trees, the town should have a maintenance program that follows a plan for what the town is trying to accomplish on U.S. 27, he said.
Town Attorney Bert Harris said he believed it was time to prune some trees in the U.S. 27 median.
Cowell said: “I have a question about forcing those palm trees down my throat and if they are not going to be maintained, why aren’t you going to maintain them?”
Harris said the palm trees have been maintained, but Cowell disagreed.
Mayor John Holbrook said the town administrator has taken notes on the issue.
“We will get with the department head and start taking a look at that,” he said.
Town Administrator Phil Williams said there have been complaints about the shrubbery from other businesses. He forwarded the complaints to Keep Lake Placid Beautiful, which has cleaned up some places.