Saturday, November 19, 2011

Adirondack Wild: ACR Project ‘Sprawl on Steriods’

What follows is a recent press release from Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve, a not-for-profit, member supported organization devoted to wilderness and wild nature. Adirondack Wild seeks to advance New York’s Forever Wild legacy and promote policies and land stewardship consistent with wild land values through education, advocacy and research. Adirodnack Wild has been among the most vocal opponents to the Adirondack Club and Resort project now under review by the Adirondack Park Agency. The group argues that the resort development “threatens to undermine 38 Years of Adirondack public policy to preserve backcountry for forest management and open space recreation”. What follows is a press release issued by Adirondack Wild, in its entirety.

This Thursday, the NYS Adirondack Park Agency (APA) began its review of the adjudicatory hearing record of the proposed Adirondack Club and Resort (ACR) near Tupper Lake. That review is expected to take several months, and poses a severe test for APA Chairwoman Lani Ulrich and Governor Andrew Cuomo.

The test is whether APA commissioners will seriously examine the public hearing record, honor their statute, and the APA’s past track record for addressing similar large subdivisions. If the commissioners do all three, they will deny a permit for this damaging, illegal and precedent-setting project.

ACR is the largest subdivision and development proposal to come before the APA in 35 years. It’s comprised of 719 residential units, 332 buildings, and 15 miles of new roads, sewer, water and electrical lines spread all over 6235 mostly undeveloped acres with sensitive water resources on rugged terrain several miles from Tupper Lake in the heart of the Adirondack Park.

As a party to the hearing, Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve is asking the APA to deny the project a permit without prejudice to the applicant’s resubmission of an alternative, conservation design which would be compatible with the conserved character of the Adirondack Park and would minimize risks to local taxpayers and service providers.

“The Adirondack Park Agency has served as an institutional advocate for the protection of large tracts of private forest land since 1973,” stated Adirondack Wild’s Dan Plumley. “This is fully in keeping with the APA Act’s requirements for the park’s back country lands. The ACR project, however, if approved in its sprawling, fragmenting design would drastically change all that. If approved during Governor Andrew Cuomo’s watch, this one project would radically upend the protection of the park’s open space resources that all other Governors before, including Governor Mario Cuomo, sought to protect.”

“The 125 conditions listed by the APA hearing staff do not make this an approvable project,” added Adirondack Wild’s David Gibson. “They do nothing to materially alter the subdivision design, or to protect a large contiguous block of the backcountry, or to avoid many undue adverse impacts on the Park’s sensitive natural ecosystems, water resources and iconic wildlife.”

The adjudicatory hearing record is replete with evidence that ACR will cause undue adverse impacts to the Park’s natural resources, and undue financial risks to the community, including:

– ACR is deficient and defective in its required survey of biological resources.

– Wildlife characteristic of the Park, but either uncommon or not found elsewhere in NYS would be seriously impacted.

– ACR violates the purposes, policies and objectives for land classified Resource Management, 77% of the project site.

– ACR is unmarketable as presented, speculative, fails to take its competition into account, can not be completed as projected, understates fiscal vulnerabilities to the community and overstates employment and economic benefits.

– The application fails to present meaningful alternatives, as required by the APA regulations.

Adirondack Wild wrote in its closing statement: “Not once in our professional experience has the APA contemplated permitting 82 new principal buildings, and associated roads, driveways (some as long as half a mile), guest cottages, outbuildings and infrastructure spread all over 4800 acres of Resource Management land…A permit for APA Project 2005-100 risks violating the fundamental purposes and objectives of Resource Management…constituting well over a million acres of the Park’s private backcountry.”

In its closing statement, Adirondack Wild described seven large-acreage subdivisions reviewed by the APA between 1988 and 2009. These were:

1. Patten Corporation, 1988-89
2. Butler Lake, 1991, APA Project 89-312
3. Veteran Mountain Camp, 1992
4. Whitney Park, 1996, APA Project 96-138
5. Oven Mountain Estates, 1995, APA Project 91-110
6. Diamond Sportsmen’s Club, 2001, APA Project 2001-217
7. Brandreth Park Association, 2009, APA Project 2007-117

All of these projects were located either on Resource Management or Rural Use land classification. All were substantially reconfigured or modified by the APA as a result of information revealed through public hearings or staff review. All ensured that large, contiguous forest acreages were preserved for open space recreation and forestry, and all concentrated housing within one relatively small area on the project site. These past projects reveal an APA responsive to its legal mandate to protect areas which the legislature directed to be reserved largely for open space recreation and forestry in order to conserve the special character of the Adirondack Park.

The Adirondack Club and Resort application stands in stark contrast with these past projects. None of the proposed “open space” is contiguous, and large housing developments fragment natural resources by spreading across all 6200 acres, making forest management infeasible, hunting impossible, and threatening those species of native wildlife which require large, undeveloped blocks of forest. Resort housing is not concentrated where the law says it belongs in the Moderate Intensity Use areas near the Big Tupper Ski Area. Furthermore, there is no adequate wildlife inventory or assessment. A respected conservation biologist, Michael Klemens, testified at the hearing that “the club and resort is classic sprawl on steroids. It spreads negative ecological impacts out across the landscape. It is a train wreck resulting from a process that does not allow for understanding natural systems in the first place.”

Hearing evidence also showed highly inflated sales projections. The application alleges that annual sales of raw forest lots in Tupper Lake would exceed those in well-established Stowe, Vermont. An independent ski and resort development expert, David Norden, said the project is founded upon the applicant’s promises and “does not possess the primary characteristics of resorts most likely to succeed as we come out of the recession.” With sales likely to fall well below projections, Norden and others said the tax revenues projected to be reaped by local taxing districts are also likely to fall well below the applicant’s projections. Investment in Big Tupper Ski Area, the most broadly supported local objective, has been relegated to latter phases of the development. Funding for project infrastructure and payments in lieu of taxes also remain highly problematic aspects of the proposal.

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