After publishing “Robert Moses and the Lake George Park Commission” in this space a couple of months ago, several people asked me to explain a reference I had made in that piece to a proposed Adirondack Park-wide authority or commission modeled upon the original Lake George Park Commission.
It’s not surprising that few people remember it. After the legislative session of 1964, the enabling legislation was shelved, and by 1967, the public’s attention had shifted to Laurence Rockefeller’s proposal for an Adirondack National Park and later, to Governor Nelson Rockefeller’s Temporary Study Commission on the Future of the Adirondacks and its most important recommendation, the formation of an Adirondack Park Agency.
Like the Adirondack Park agency itself, the idea for the Adirondack Park-wide commission originated with Richard W. Lawrence, Jr. of Elizabethtown (1909-2002). “I floated this idea several times with Eustis (New York State Senator Eustis Paine) and after a while he came to see some merit in it,” Lawrence recalled in a note to me in 1997. “It’s a good thing nothing came of it! It needed the Adirondack Study Commission under Nelson Rockefeller to land that troublesome beast.”
“That troublesome beast,” was, of course, a regional land use plan to protect open space and channel development into appropriate areas.
“For some years, conservationists, civic leaders and residents of the Adirondack region have been concerned that with the coming of the Adirondack Northway, the population growth in the privately-owned areas of the park, and the increasing demands of the people for outdoor recreation facilities, much of the natural beauty of the area may be spoiled,” my father, Robert F. Hall, wrote in an editorial for the Warrensburg-Lake George News in 1963.
The Adirondack Park Commission, as the proposed board came to be know, was the first, albeit unsuccessful, effort to address those concerns. Legislation authorizing the creation of the Lake George Park Commission had been signed into law in 1961. In December of that year, Eustis Paine wrote to Jud Morhouse, the chairman of the state Republican Committee and the father of the Lake George Park Commission, asking, “Would it not be possible to make a quiet study of, and perhaps even enter a bill for, the creation of an Adirondack Park Authority Commission, (whose duties would consist in part of) assisting in the planning, zoning and development of private lands?”
Apparently, it was possible, because by March, 1962, Paine had produced a draft of a bill, which was then revised by Judge Sheldon Wickes, the former Assemblyman from Essex County and a prominent Ticonderoga attorney who was serving as counsel to the Lake George Park Commission. “We need industry and commerce badly in the Park area, but must control the location thereof, in order that areas which should be reserved for residential and recreational purposes may not be ruined…” Wickes wrote to Paine.
The power to locate commerce and industry in specified zones was not to be given to the commission outright. Rather, the Commission would be authorized to help towns develop their own, mandatory zoning plans. “In the bill there is no power given to the Commission to zone any land lying within the Adirondack Park. The wording very clearly states that the Park Commission can only aid or assist any locality that requests such help,” Paine wrote to a Lake George constituent.
Although the power to zone would remain with be the towns, the new Commission’s advisory role would ensure that some uniformity in local zoning plans would develop, lending the Adirondack Park a coherence that it still lacked. “If a uniform approach to zoning by local municipalities were the result of the park Commission’s work, it would have accomplished a great deal,” Assemblyman Dick Bartlett wrote at the time.
Like the Lake George Park Commission bill, the legislation carried a minimum of compulsion. The new Commission would rely mainly on persuasion, urging property owners to co-operate in covenants and deeds to protect the natural, scenic qualities of their lands.
Warren County’s Board of Supervisors was among the bill’s supporters. “The bill will enable town boards to start a zoning program and will help the local people realize the advantages which would come from town zoning and planning,” wrote John Wertime (1916-2011), the Supervisor from Chester who was chairman of the Board of Supervisors.
The bill passed the assembly in 1963, but opposition, led by the Adirondack Park Association (known today as ANCA) soon came to the surface. Art Bensen, the founder of Frontier Town, emerged as the voice of that opposition. “If you are a property owner, this bill will enable the commission to restrict or control the use of any of your land, lakes or streams (and) stop you from lumbering or farming your lands or for using it for any other business purpose,” Bensen wrote.
In words that would be repeated with little variation by others in the decades to come, Bensen stated, “the root of our troubles in the Adirondacks is the sad state of our depressed economy. This bill does nothing to help. In fact, it puts more burdens on the Adirondack people who already are having so difficult a time.”
Bensen was a past-president of the Adirondack Park Association. Its chairman and co-chairmen were Nate Proller of Glens Falls (who would succeed Paine in the Senate) and Bill Roden of Bolton. Their opposition was less strident, but still adamant. “The association feels than an Adirondack Park Commission is unnecessary. Its work would be a duplication of various state agencies and a needless expense to the taxpayer,” they stated.
Paine introduced the bill again in 1964, but he clearly had no stomach for a fight and he allowed it to die. Paine announced that he would retire from the Senate that year. “Eustis just decided that he had had enough of the Senate; he didn’t enjoy it,” recalled Dick Bartlett.
Dick Lawrence had come to the conclusion that local governments, left to themselves, would never create adequate zoning plans. Somehow, objections to a regional land use agency would have to be overcome if zoning was to be established in the Adirondacks. He and the other members of the Temporary Study Commission, however, must have had the opposition inspired by Paine’s bill fresh in their minds, and perhaps were already prepared for battle when the plan for the Adirondack Park Agency was released in 1971.
Photo: Members of the Adirondack Study Commission; (l-r) Peter Paine Jr., Henry Diamond, Robert Hall, Richard W. Lawrence, NY Governor Nelson Rockefeller.