Environmentalists raised many objections to the Adirondack Club and Resort, but perhaps the biggest is that the project will fragment Resource Management lands on and near Mount Morris in Tupper Lake.
In hearings last year, Michale Glennon and other scientists raised concerns about the loss of wild habitat. The argument is that the construction of roads, driveways, homes, and lawns will change the suite of wildlife that now occupies the woods. We might, for example, see more blue jays and fewer hermit thrushes.
Yet Brian Mann reported last fall for the Adirondack Explorer and North Country Public Radio that it’s unclear whether the fragmentation will have much impact in the greater scheme of things, given that the lands in question are adjacent to tens of thousands of acres of protected forestland. In short, hermit thrushes are not about to disappear from the Adirondack Park.
Dave Gibson of Adirondack Wild and others contend that Brian gave too much credence to outside experts. One of these experts, Hal Salwasser, dean of Oregon State College of Forestry, called the proposed resort “a blip on the landscape in a regional scale.”
Reading that the biggest development ever reviewed by the Adirondack Park Agency is a “blip” is sure to rankle opponents of the project. But the man said what he said. Quoting Salwasser does not make Brian biased. Indeed, if he had not quoted him, that would have been evidence of bias. (Click here to read the story in question. You also can click here to read another story by Brian in the latest Explorer.)
As far as we know, there is nothing special about the woods where the developers want to build. They have been logged for decades. That said, it is shocking that the developers failed to undertake a comprehensive wildlife survey—and that the APA failed to require one. Even if there were little chance of finding anything significant, it should have been done.
Most people seem to think the APA will approve the project this week. If so, we hope it demands a wildlife survey as a condition of the permit.
Looking ahead, the bigger question—even bigger than this project—is what will become of the rest of the Resource Management lands in the Park. How many “blips” like the Adirondack Club and Resort can the Park withstand?
The Adirondack Park Agency Act defines Resource Management lands as “those lands where the need to protect, manage and enhance forest, agricultural, recreational and open space resources is of paramount importance because of overriding natural resource and public considerations.” Examples of “primary uses” of such lands include forestry, agriculture, hunting, and fishing.
Nevertheless, the construction of single-family homes is allowed as a “secondary use.” Under the law, landowners may build fifteen principal structures for each square mile, which works out to one every 42.7 acres.
The Adirondack Club and Resort falls well within the density guidelines: the developers intend to build 83 principal structures on 4,740 acres of Resoure Management lands—or one for every 57 acres. Still, critics say the resort’s design fails to meet the law’s requirement that homes on Resource Management lands be built “on substantial acreages or in small clusters.” Unfortunately, the APA has never come to grips with what this language means.
The Adirondack Park has 1.5 million acres of Resource Management land. Some of these lands are protected by conservation easements, and others might be undevelopable. For the sake of argument, let’s say that leaves a million acres of RM lands where a house could be built. According to the APA’s building-density guidelines, landowners could construct up to 23,255 houses.
In a 5.8-million-acre Park, each house would be a truly small blip, but if they all get built, these 23,255 homes, with their driveways, lawns, and lighting, would have a much bigger impact on habitat and wildlife than the Adirondack Club and Resort will.
Some would argue that it’s improbable that all the Resource Management lands will be developed, but it is undeniable that more of them will be developed in the years ahead. It’s time to take a hard look at the APA Act and ask whether it adequately protects the privately owned backcountry.
Photo by Carl Heilman: site of proposed Tupper Lake development.
Phil Brown is the editor of the Adirondack Explorer newsmagazine.