Monday, August 16, 2010

Commentary: The Adirondack Club and Resort

Michael Foxman invariably exudes confidence in his proposed Adirondack Club and Resort in Tupper Lake, and elicits great loyalty from many in the community who have a legitimate interest in reopening the Big Tupper ski center.

For all that, in my five years of observation he is one poor negotiator. Since the first conference between Mr. Foxman, APA and potential parties to a public hearing in April 2007, he has been unable or unwilling to substantively negotiate two major problems with what he wants to do: the lack of a permanent open space protection component in his proposals and his inability to allay concerns for water quality impacts from sewage, stormwater and steep slope development.

He blames “the process” for his inability to make much forward progress. From the beginning in 2005, he proved unable to win the trust of his neighbors, including abutters of Oval Wood Dish who happen to provide much of Tupper Lake’s drinking water. His payment in lieu of taxes scheme raised questions about fairness to taxing districts and residents. He paid for independent economic consultants ordered by the Town, and when he didn’t like their concerns, he temporarily stopped paying them. Despite the great recession, he seems supremely confident in his plan, the market value of the properties, resort markets, sales projections, and, ostensibly, the great tax boon this will be for Tupper Lake some day.

Fourteen months of mediation, the process he favored, resulted in useful exchange, yet few results. Overall, in the forty-two months since the hearing was ordered, he is not even close to a permit, or shown through detailed engineering how to get water onto the mountain and waste water off of it, or how he will pay for miles of infrastructure for a second village in Tupper Lake – for second home owners.

Once he exercises his option to acquire the bulk of the land from Oval Wood Liquidating Trust, Mr. Foxman may re-sell the properties to others. He will only exercise the option with that invaluable APA permit in hand. That permit can only be issued based on review of a lengthy public hearing record. That record will be developed at great expense over many months, and rests upon the ten hearing issues raised by the APA in its Feb 2007 decision to go to hearing, but undoubtedly other issues will be shown to be highly relevant, including energy, and wildlife impacts. The Law Judge in the case has to rule on each additional issue. Weeks of discovery, the process by which the parties to the APA hearing gain access to pertinent documents, are likely. Finally, it seems no hearing can start until the APA finds that Foxman and the LA Group have done the necessary engineering studies and completed detailed drawings of the water, stormwater, sewer, electrical and road systems.

Apparently the applicant has now delivered these to the APA, only to raise other impediments to starting the hearing process, principally his alleged future right to access and build on the Moody Pond Tract over lands owned by The Adirondack Conservancy. Meanwhile, the Franklin County Industrial Development Agency and Legislature must rule on the private bonds to pay for the tens of millions in new infrastructure.

ACR is not the biggest threat in the history of the Park. Horizon Corp would have built 10,000 homes in Colton, Ton-da-lay several thousand just north of Tupper Lake. That was all when the APA was brand new. After lengthy legal action, State objections to water supply and quality issues, and economic downturns, these behemoths were never built. Yet, this is the largest project to go to an APA adjudicatory public hearing, and tests the APA’s interpretation of the Act severely when it comes to the purpose of Resource Management lands, energy issues and fiscal and other burdens and benefits on a local community.

Were Mr. Foxman an experienced, well financed and Park-aware negotiator, had the housing bubble not burst into full recession, were the APA less risk averse, the public hearing called in 2007 might be over and a decision already reached.

My hope: a productive community dialogue on the future of these lands would occur. The housing component of the project would be downsized and largely concentrated around the base of Mt. Morris on good soils and with easier access for village services, with a wide protective buffer around Lake Simond and over 2000 acres of the project area, including Cranberry Pond, permanently protected, publicly accessible open space, a mix of conservation easement and Forest Preserve. Certified forestry, and public recreation would be encouraged, skiing started without the need to sell 38 (or whatever the number is now) great camp lots, posted signs few, and full taxes paid. My vision is hardly the right one, and may be unachievable. I do know that we are at least another year away from the APA’s review of any public hearing record.

Photo: View from Mt. Morris looking towards Tupper Lake.

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David Gibson

Dave Gibson, who writes about issues of wilderness, wild lands, public policy, and more, has been involved in Adirondack conservation for over 30 years as executive director of the Association for the Protection of the Adirondacks, executive director of Protect the Adirondacks and currently as managing partner with Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve

During Dave's tenure at the Association, the organization completed the Center for the Forest Preserve including the Adirondack Research Library at Paul Schaefer’s home. The library has the finest Adirondack collection outside the Blue Line, specializing in Adirondack conservation and recreation history.

Currently, Dave is managing partner in the nonprofit organization launched in 2010, Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve.




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