Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Adirondack Council: Revise Development Rules

The Adirondack Council is calling on Governor Andrew Cuomo and the NYS Legislature to make sweeping changes to the rules for private land use and development in the Adirondack Park.

“The current rules for development are too weak and outdated to protect the park’s pure waters, wildlife and unbroken forests,” said the Adirondack Council Executive Director Brian L. Houseal said in a statement issued last week. “Conservation science and smart growth principles have advanced a great deal since 1971. Unfortunately, the Adirondack Park Agency’s regulations have not.”

The Adirondack Park Agency (APA) was created by Governor Nelson Rockefeller in 1971, after resort development and the construction of an interstate highway (I-87) through the Adirondacks prompted a public call to protect the park. None of those rules has been amended since 1978, when several were weakened, the Council asserts, adding that “a recent resort review illustrated why the rules need attention.”

“The APA just spent seven years reviewing the Adirondack Club and Resort proposal for Tupper Lake, the largest development project since the park was founded in 1892,” Houseal said in the statement. “It proposes to build 650 homes and resort facilities near a ski hill, on a footprint half the size of Manhattan. During the review, we and others advised the APA how to scale back the project to better protect water quality, save wildlife and conserve the forest that will surround the new homes. The APA’s staff and commissioners lacked the clear authority to compel the developer to carry out those changes.”

That is a problem that must be fixed, the Council said.

“We are not the only ones who believe this,” Houseal explained. “Nearly every person who spoke after the commissioners approved the Tupper Lake project – including resort supporters and the APA commissioners themselves – said the park agency’s rules weren’t good enough. They said the process for reviewing applications needed major changes.”

“It’s time to prove that this was not mere talk,” Houseal said. “It’s time for real reforms at the APA. If Governor Andrew Cuomo is serious about his mandate to make NYS government less costly and more effective, here is an opportunity to make changes that will positively affect the future of 20 percent of the state’s land area. There is plenty for his Spending and Government Efficiency (SAGE) Commission to do.”

The Adirondack Park was the first place in America where people realized that the environment and the economy are forever linked to one another, Houseal said. “Every passing year confirms this truth. Tourism is our number one industry here. It is rooted in our amazing, natural scenery, abundant wildlife, healthy forests and clean waters. But our ability to protect these treasures is slipping away.”

“We must, as a society, agree to avoid building new homes and businesses too close to shorelines, on steep slopes, or in places that wildlife needs to survive,” according to Houseal. “We must recognize that we have allowed 9 of every 10 homes in this park to be constructed outside of an existing community. That trend threatens the park’s wildest places and is causing a decline in the park’s villages and hamlets.”

With the fresh perspective of lessons learned from the review of the Adirondack Club and Resort, now is the time to agree on reforms and implement them as soon as possible, Houseal said.

Key points presented to Governor Cuomo and the Legislature by the Adirondack Council included:

“Reform and modernize the APA’s land-use code to better protect the park’s wildest lands – with input from local officials and the public. These lands were meant to sustain working forests and farms, not to become second home subdivisions. New rules are needed to require that backcountry development be clustered into a compact area, and applicants for major projects complete detailed wildlife assessments before any application is deemed complete. Project reviews also need to be streamlined by evaluating all necessary state agency permits at the same time, and the APA should be able to deny a permit application before a project is sent to an expensive and time-consuming adjudicatory hearing.

“Protect water quality by developing a water classification system for lakes and rivers that protects pristine waters from inappropriate uses and pollution; requiring inspection upgrading of on-site wastewater treatment (septic) systems; increasing shoreline lot sizes and setback requirements; and, improving shoreline vegetative-cutting restrictions.

“Improve the delivery of state agency services to the public by changing their regional boundaries to coincide with the park boundary, making the park a single region for the Department of Environmental Conservation (it is now split between two), the Department of Health, Department of Transportation, Department of State, and Empire State Development Corp. (economic development & tourism).

“Fix the APA’s recently slackened enforcement program by reinstating enforcement staff that were reassigned due to budget cuts. Allow APA’s enforcement team to issue tickets and stop-work orders, like any local code enforcement officer can, for violations of the APA’s land-use code.

“Revitalize local communities by providing funds and expertise to complete local land-use plans. Most development in the park is outside of a village or hamlet, mainly because only 19 of the park’s 103 towns and villages have APA-approved land-use plans. This is not due to a lack of interest, but rather a lack of funds and personnel. More local land use planning and better local zoning would also relieve some of the APA’s monthly permit-review burden by allowing local governments to review smaller projects by themselves.”

Photo: The proposed Adirondack Club and Resort in Tupper Lake.

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5 Responses

  1. Paul says:

    Incorporating some of what is known about how to monitor and analyze environmental impacts and to limit them could (and perhaps) should be incorporated into the act.

    But back in 1973 it was already known that less development is going to have less environmental impact. That is not a new concept that has emerged over the past thirty years. The compromise that was made by the legislature said that “this” amount of development is what we want to be allowed someday if it is going to happen. Now that some of it is happening (maybe) doesn’t mean that the legislature should now renig on the compromise that was made? Like I said they have already made changes to the Act and the rules along the way. Now it looks like they are hoping for a more wholesale tightening. They should just be a bit more truthful in some of their premise here. For example there is now far more land off limits to development than there was in 1973.

    In fact this recent ACR permit took more land out of development than it asks to develop. Most of these very large lots are required under the deed (so for even future owners) to remain undeveloped.

  2. brsacjab says:

    Gee, the Adirondack interlopers Council makes statements that are at best incorrect interpretations and at worst bold faced lies. It’s the thing they are most consistent about. The best thing that can be said about their statements is that you can see residents and reasonable peoples opinion by simply inverting the AC’s statements.

  3. Paul says:

    Even if you look at the APA Act you will see this on the cover:

    “As amended through the close of the 1998 legislative session”

    I am not sure what Brian is talking about here?

    John, where did you see this announcement was it just at their website?

  4. Will Doolittle says:

    “It proposes to build 650 homes and resort facilities near a ski hill, on a footprint half the size of Manhattan.”
    So, how did the APA Act not work to protect the wilderness? If you wander around an area half the size of Manhattan, with nothing there but forest, 650 homes and facilities for one resort, you are, essentially, wandering around in wilderness. You could walk for hours and not stumble across any houses. Because of the APA Act, the developers were forced to leave the forest almost entirely intact. Only a banning of all development altogether, or something very close to it, could have worked better to preserve the forest. And wasn’t the intent of the APA Act to leave some room for development at the same time as preserving the wild character and natural environment of the Park? It seeems to me, in this case, the law worked well.

  5. Paul says:

    “None of those rules has been amended since 1978”

    That isn’t true. Weren’t the boathouse regulations amended last year? Weren’t the rules regarding “pre-exisiting” shoreline structures change the year before that?

    “Tourism is our number one industry here.”

    Again this isn’t true either. It is a very important part of the Adirondack economy but it is not number one? It could be in the future but it isn’t now.

    “Fix the APA’s recently slackened enforcement program ”

    Here is another one. The APA has had a far more aggressive enforcement program over the past few years and the data prove it.

    It seems like many of the assumptions here are flawed.

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