Monday, March 17, 2014

Dick Beamish: Preservationists Have A Point

APA officeThere’s no question that the much-debated resort and second-home development around Mount Morris could be a good thing for Tupper Lake—if it’s done right. The proposed Adirondack Club and Resort (ACR) is a 700-unit project spread over more than 6,000 acres. The question is whether this largest development ever to come before the Adirondack Park Agency will be done in a way that respects the natural environment and benefits the local community, and whether it will set a good or bad precedent for other projects, large and small, far into the future.

The APA thinks this is a suitable project and, and after much back-and-forth, has approved it. Two environmental groups (Protect the Adirondacks and the Sierra Club) and some private citizens think this project would be detrimental and they are suing the APA for allowing it. In response to the lawsuit, the developers have been conducting a PR campaign to score points in the “court of public opinion.” They regularly denounce their adversaries as ruthless “preservationists” who hate people and seek to drive Adirondack residents out of the Park. These attacks sound familiar to anyone who was around in the 1970s, when developers were accusing the park agency of the very same thing. (“The APA—Another Name for Tyranny!” proclaimed a local bumper sticker.)

Now it seems the game has changed. The ACR folks have sprung to the defense of the APA while berating the preservationists for having the nerve, as local real-estate mogul Jim LaValley recently wrote, “to impugn the integrity of the legally empowered professional stewards of the Adirondack Park.” Forty years can surely make a difference!  The formerly maligned APA is now the hero and those who dare to challenge its decisions are the villains.

Name-calling aside, an important question has been raised by the lawsuit. Did the APA act in the best interests of the Adirondack Park? Or did it approve a project whose design runs counter to the principles of “conservation development”—land-protection principles that have gained widespread acceptance since the APA’s Land Use and Development Plan was enacted in 1973?  The crux of the problem is that ACR’s dozens of “great camp lots” range from 25 to more than 100 acres in size, and they are scattered over thousands of acres of forest land.

When the Park Agency set up shop four decades ago, it was generally agreed that the best way to preserve open space and wildlife habitat was to do one of two things. As the APA plan stipulates in its guidelines for backcountry land: “Residential development [should occur only] on substantial acreages OR in small clusters on carefully selected and well designed sites.” Since then, however, the thinking has evolved.  Fragmenting land into “substantial acreages” has been largely discredited in favor of clustering (or concentrating) development to preserve most of the property in contiguous, intact open space. The key words are contiguous and intact. Conservation science recognizes that the spatial pattern of development is at least as important as the density of development.

In this view, the great camp lots of the ACR project represent a classic example of how NOT to treat open space. This is now seen as “rural sprawl” that needlessly disturbs the natural surroundings, alters species behavior and composition, increases human-wildlife conflicts, and undermines the open-space character of the Adirondack Park.

Rural developers like ACR continue to argue that large lots are the best way to preserve a natural landscape. “We agreed that the buildings on each of the 24 eastern great camp lots would be located within a 3-acre building area,” they explain. “Therefore, development is restricted to about 80 of the project’s easternmost 3,300 acres” and “approximately 86 percent of our 6,235 acres is designed as open space.”

The problem is that this open space will be severely compromised by roads, driveways, houses, guest accommodations, garages, cars, pets, and human activities. Studies show that each dwelling in a forested area has an ecological-effect zone that extends far beyond the immediate disturbed area of the site. For birds, the impact can extend for 30 acres and for small mammals such as marten, fisher and fox, up to 39 acres.

Conservation science leaves no doubt that concentrating development, and overlapping the impact zones as much as possible, is far preferable to fragmenting open-space into huge lots. The preservationists who are currently suing the APA believe that the agency should have required the developer to concentrate his development. (Clustered development doesn’t have to be crammed together—for example, building homes on five-acre lots would give occupants plenty of privacy while preserving perhaps 90% of the property in continuous, commonly owned open space.)

The APA seems to believe that the choice between clustering versus spreading out building lots should be the developer’s choice. The preservationists argue that the APA should have made that choice itself in favor of concentrating development, as it has in the past under different governors and with a differently constituted board of commissioners.

Another bone of contention is whether the APA required an adequate biological assessment of the Tupper Lake property before lot lines were drawn. With conservation design, this is always Step One in the development process. Everything else flows from a thorough, professional, unbiased, four-season ecological inventory of the land to determine where roads and house lots should be situated, and where development should not occur.

Mount Morris seems ripe for the kind of resort project that could give Tupper Lake a new lease on life. The question is whether the ACR project as approved by the APA is appropriate for its site and for the Adirondacks. The current lawsuit should be seen as a public service that will help to clarify the APA’s authority and responsibilities as “professional stewards of the Park.”



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Dick Beamish was a staff member of the Adirondack Park Agency from 1972-78 and the founder of Adirondack Explorer. He now lives in Middlebury, VT; he was a founding member of Adirondack Recreational Trail Advocates (ARTA).

55 Responses

  1. adirondackjoe says:

    i’ve always wondered since all this started who is going to buy all great camps and homes? very little water front so just homes in the woods in Tupper lake. with a ski slope that may or may not be improved. i’m of the opinion that if they ever did try to build it it would fall flat on its face and go bankrupt.if i was wealthy and looking to invest my money it would never be in a project like this. am i wrong? agree or disagree, i’d like to hear.

  2. Julia says:

    So… Did the APA conduct a proper biological assessment of the area or not?

    The development project just sounds like the first big huge step toward the eventual suburbanization of the Tupper Lake area of the Adirondacks, and it’s a frightening prospect.

  3. Steve says:

    Adirondackjoe: I’ve never been able to make sense of how the very weathly spend their money, but I am pretty sure the developersalready have several of this big lots reserved by buyers.

    • John Warren says:

      Is there any evidence, aside from the what the developers say, that they have “reserved” any lots? If so, what is it?

      • Paul says:

        There isn’t much else to look for at this point. Once a sale is made and a deed is transferred then there would be some kind of public record. They can’t close a sale till the specter of this suit (and any follow on appeals) are lifted.

  4. Ed Zahniser says:

    Great perspective — and love the irony of the once-vilified APA now being the heroes of development that doesn’t meet current standards of protecting the whole community of life on Earth. The 30-acre and 39-acre impact zones that Dick Beamish cites should be reason enough to withdraw approval of the development plan. And as David Rains Wallace has pointed out, such projects are not development plans; they are devolution plans.

  5. Henry says:

    Unfortunately, this may be one of those things where “if they build it, they will come.” The vast inequality in our country means there are a fair number of people with more money than they know what to do with and lots of financial advisors looking for something, anything, to invest this money in. I look around where I live and there are hundreds of condos that sell for much more than most local homes, yet nobody lives in the condos most of the year–they are black all winter long except for the security lights.

  6. Joe says:

    Dick Beamish-

    Weren’t the ‘impact zone’ studies done here (1)very few, as in only one, and (2)very short term as in 2 years or so since construction. Specifically, Michela’s nice work?

    No long term studies have been done. No one has looked, for example, at 100 yr old camps, occasionally used, to see what their impact is. To make definitive conclusions based on this is, um, weak.

    How about a campaign to pull together such funds so we know something that is not speculation. This would have more lasting value than paying for lawsuits. At least we would know some new science.

    If the goal is to stop people from building a single home on hundreds or thousands of acres, then you are gonna need a lot better science.

    • Hope says:

      Actually, the economic impact of 100 year old camps is pretty easy to discern. They either fall into disrepair and are absorbed into the wilderness via state land acquisitions or they are still around providing jobs to caretaking staff who live in the area. Many lease their land for recreation and many still log their land which also provides economic benefit. Of course these mini great camps are restricted from logging and or cutting out more than a small fraction of their property for construction. But they will also require significant manpower to maintain these mini estates, thus providing a different kind of revenue resource. And, the general public will be unable to access these lands but they can’t now anyway.

      • John Warren says:

        Right, just check the list of towns whose economies are built on private clubs for weekenders. Let’s see, there’s… um…

        • Paul says:

          Their economies are not built on private clubs but the do produce some jobs.

          The Ausable Club is a pretty good example.

          Or the uncle of a friend of mine was the caretaker for a ‘hundred year old’ camp on Lower Saranac. His son was after him. They were excellent paying jobs with great benefits. I even worked there myself in the spring some.

          There is some impact. It isn’t a pillar but everything helps in economies like that.

          • william Deuel,Jr says:

            I still belong to one of these clubs. I also pay school and property tax to have my camp and have for 20 years even though it is a lease. Considering the number of camps it comes to a pretty good chunk for the town of Newcomb.

        • Hope says:

          Maybe not private clubs but weekenders and second home owners provide a pretty big property tax revenues to their respective communities for not a lot of services. Tupper Lake was used to surviving on NYS jobs, OWD and logging. Well NYS jobs are disappearing, OWD closed and logging is a dying industry. Can’t really blame them for going after this development or any other economic development idea at this point. It’s a much bigger town, than Newcomb, with a larger population to support and all that goes with it. I’m sure some would prefer that it just dry up and blow away so that it becomes just another tiny hamlet like Long Lake or Newcomb but the community is going to fight you tooth and nail to prevent that.

        • Hope says:

          Gee John, what is your solution to Tupper’s Economony? I’d really like to hear some constructive solutions. The OWD property is not Finch Pryun type property. It’s not going to bring loads of paddlers and hikers to Tupper Lake. At best it might of opened up one camping spot on the Raquette River. Follensby is the jewel that may be Tupper’s eco tourist destination but that is pretty far away from becoming a reality. Mt Morris (Big Tupper) is not located on OWD land. It is a separate parcel.

          • John Warren says:


            I don’t have any snake oil to sell (it looks like Tupper has a ready supply anyway), but if I lived in Tupper Lake I would work toward reaffirming the community’s history and making connections to its wild areas.

            I’d pass strong local zoning that consolidated non-industrial businesses downtown, create the best community trail network in the Northeast that connected to all the nice spots worth seeing within and around town, pass and enforce code reform that kept the historic small town feel intact and provided for historic preservation. I’d hire a single person to help local people with whatever they needed to make their small businesses better. I’d hire a second person to do nothing but promote the community as the most important destination related to the history of logging and wood products in the northeast – I’d offer free space for wood workers in OWD. I’d expand as thoroughly as possible the Wild Center’s community maple project into a national model of community cooperation. I’d pass affordable housing requirements. I’d consolidate schools, community centers, and libraries into vibrant public facilities. I refurbish buildings downtown so people driving through will want to stop. I’d require every student to spend a semester working to make their community better.

            I would stop hating on environmentalists, the very people who are most attracted to the lifestyle Tupper Lake has to offer. Stop opposing basic zoning that would keep the community looking and feeling good for residents and visitors. Stop pretending a housing development is going to solve the problems, stop looking to others for answers, and get to work on solutions.

            • Hope says:

              All good ideas some of which are in the works as we speak.
              The new make up of the town and village board plus the new Chamber board aren’t sitting around waiting for the ACR to happen any more but that doesn’t mean they aren’t going to support it. It’s a slow turn around to go from an economy based on NYS employment to private sector employment and it won’t happen over night but IMHO, some environmentalists, not all by any means, do more harm than good with their actions..
              Also, as far as I’m aware, ACR plans on most all of the business activity other than actual skiing and residences will be happening in the TL business district and not on the mountain even though many groups seem to want it at the base of the mountain.

  7. Hope says:

    You know Dick, if it was so important to preserve this property then the environmental community should of stepped up and bought it. It was listed for sale for years. It has always been there ripe for acquisition yet know one ever thought anybody would buy it to develop it. Tupper Lake, the “armpit of the ADKs ” . Why would anyone seek to develop logged over swampland and back woods forests in Tupper Lake? Oops! Apparently there are a few people who have a different vision of what Tupper Lake could be. You snooze you lose. Last ditch effort is a lawsuit where no one wins but the lawyers. Get over it. Tupper Lake wants this development. Let them have it. Tell TNC to buy Moody Pond from Foxman to protect Follensby and don’t worry about the rest.

  8. Bobcat Bob says:

    Nice article, Dick, but you are missing a key point. PROTECT and the Sierra Club didn’t start a lawsuit because they didn’t “like” the design of Foxman’s project. They started the lawsuit because the project is in violation of the APA Act and Article 14 other State laws on the 28 different counts on which they sued.

    PROTECT and its predecessor organizations sat in the APA hearings for six years, literally, before APA made its decision. On several occasions PROTECT, Adirondack Wild and others made recommendations to Foxman as to how the project could be changed and made approvable. Except for removal of the proposed East Ridge housing and the shooting range, Foxan would not budge from his original plan throughout the 6-year discussion and attempted negotiations. He was going to tough it out because he had the locals on his side after promising them the moon.

    Foxman forced PROTECT and the Sierra Club into the lawsuit because after 6 years of telling Foxman and APA that the project was in violation of the law, they had to put their money where their mouth was regardless of local sentiment. They knew they weren’t going to win a popularity contest, but that is not what it takes to protect the Park.

    Too bad the people in Tupper Lake want to kill the messenger. They are barking up the wrong tree. Foxman and APA got what they asked for – a good and just lawsuit – and its past the time when that was recognized by locals who claim that they were robbed. It is past time time for PROTECT and the Sierra Club to be recognized for making the financial and moral commitment to defend the Park and the law through this very expensive lawsuit. Win or lose they deserve the gratitude of everyone who has fought for years to keep the vision and reality of the Adirondack Park alive despite those who would destroy its natural resources and settle for making it look just like every place else outside of the Park.

    We will probably get the court decision by the end of this year.As courts often do, it might not be a clean decision. One side or the other could lose on some issues and win on others. So that might not be the end of it if there is a basis for an appeal.

    • Paul says:

      We will have to see what the court rules on this. The APA has a lot of flexibility when it comes to their decisions (as some on the other side of an APA decision have also learned). I personally do not think that there has been any violation of the APA act or any other laws. But only time will tell. In this case time is on the plaintiffs side.

  9. adirondackjoe says:

    Hope, I thought the state did try to buy it but the town would not let them under some law that gov. Pataki made. I may be wrong. Please advise if i’m incorrect on this.

    • Paul says:

      Not sure if the state did try to buy this? But yes in order for the state to acquire this land it would have required approval of the local municipalities. Just like we saw with the Fynch lands.

      But to Hope’s point. If the TNC wanted to purchase the land local approval is not required. BTW they could still purchase large amounts of this land now if they wanted to.

  10. John Jongen says:

    Human nature dictates that the deeper the pockets the more we have a ‘need’ for unobstructed views with nary a neighbor in sight. Without the ability to remove wealth from the buying equation the park will remain at risk of the ‘bigger is better’ investor. Modest-sized ‘clustering’ community schemes may be a fairer way to exclude these investors in favor of preservation-minded home buyers who just want to be close to the park in all seasons and to tread lightly on its limited resources.

  11. Hope says:

    In 2001, the Town of Tupper Lake (Altamont) voted against a proposal for NYS to purchase the lands of the Oval Wood Dish Liquidating Trust due to opposition by the hunting clubs, logging interests and concerns that revolved around issues of too much State lands within the township causing financial concerns among others. Interestingly, DEC did not attempt any further negotiation or try to put part of the lands under conservation easements which would had at least alleviated the first 2 objections. At least none that I am aware of but who knows, but a few, of what went on behind the scenes. I know a few club members who probably wish the State had at least done that, now that they will be losing their camps anyway. I do not think that most people in Tupper Lake believe that the Town Board made a bad call there, as it affects it’s local financial control and growth possibilities for that land to be controlled by NYS. The environmental community is making no friends here, just enemies firmly planting their feet behind the private property rights line drawn in the sand. It will put back environmental cooperation in the Park decades. JMHO.

    • John Warren says:

      I continue to have conversations with Newcomb residents who are overjoyed at the prospects of opening lands to the public which were previously closed to them. They are seeing a LOT more people in town, they are getting to enjoy the land with their own families, and see the potential for a bright future.

      I can’t help but note the contrasting approaches between Newcomb and Tupper Lake.

      • Hope says:

        I don’t think Newcomb had much of a choice. It seems to me the most objections came from the clubs and not the locals. They did get some of their concerns addressed ie. snowmobile connector trail etc. so they should be able to benefit. What other economic opportunity was presented to Newcomb? None that I’m aware of but I could be wrong.

        • Paul says:

          Hopefully they will carefully study the economic impacts of the land acquisitions around Newcomb. Looking both before and after the acquisition. Pretty long after would be important since you probably have a “curiosity” factor at play when things first get opened up. Folks may get in there and realize that the grass was not as “greener” than they thought on the other side of the fence? It will help to solve these questions of if there is more or less economic impact with the two different models. In five years will there be more economic activity in Newcomb or less because of these deals? Time will tell.

          • John Warren says:

            Your suggestion that there will be less economic activity in Newcomb is simply laughable.

            • william Deuel,Jr says:

              John, What economic activity could you be talking about with in the town of Newcomb ? There is nothing there, a golf course and a store, i mean come on they even combined the bank with long lake so that is no longer there. The one store is struggling, I am there almost every week and have been for 20 years with my guiding up there. The surrounding areas may do better like long lake, which is where you have to go if you need gas or lodging or a something to eat but certainly not Newcomb. I would hardly call the above comment laughable when the results are not yet in.

              • Mr.Deull,
                I hope for the sake of your clients you are more observant in the woods than you are driving through Newcomb.
                Newcomb has a new country store, WD’s that carries a variety of goods and is doing very well. We also have year round lodging with Cloud-Splitter Outfitters. The High Peaks Kitchen is a great place to stop and get a bite to eat . They also have a campground and gas pumps. The Newcomb House serves food and beverages.
                I know for a fact that The Town of Newcomb has been working very hard on a plan to better inform our visitors(over 100k annually for just one trailhead) of all the town has to offer.

                • Alan Senbaugh says:

                  Nice! I was going to jump in there, well done. Newcomb is the ADK community with the greatest potential and it’s all about tourism and the natural beauty in that area.

            • Paul says:

              Not really. But the data will sort that out.

              The land there is switching from one type of use to another. We will have to see what happens.

      • TiSentinel65 says:

        I’ll be happy when they open up the snowmobile trail from Newcomb to North Hudson.

  12. Hope says:

    Of course that shouldn’t stop an environmentally concerned individual, corporation or other entity from purchasing the property. Only stops NYS. Then they could do whatever they wanted. Maybe even gift it to NYS. I’m sure you could buy up all the lots you wanted if you were willing to pay the price.

  13. Hope says:

    A quote from my father in law. ” Adirondack issues are like rowing a guide oat. One oar represents people and the economy and the other oar represents people and the environment. You won’t get anywhere without both oars in the water.” Everyone needs to remember that.

  14. Dick Beamish says:

    When development occurs in the Adirondacks, it should fit in with the natural character of the Adirondack Park. The Adirondack Club and Resort, as proposed, does not do this.
    The APA is being sued for approving what many believe to be an inappropriate project. A lot of development has been occuring in the Park since the APA land-use controls took effect in 1973–an average of 800 new residences every year. There will be a lot more development in the Park in the decades to come. What’s important is that it be done in the right places and in the right way. The Tupper Lake development dramatizes this issue. So does a a hotel project currently proposed for the shores of Lake Flower in Saranac Lake Village–the structure would be 60 feet high and 400 feet long. Is this out-of-scale monolith appropriate for the Park, or should it be half that size, and rather than dominate the lake fit comfortably into its site? Another current examples is the 90-mile rail corridor, mostly unused, that connects Old Forge and Lake Placid. What is the best recreational and economic use of this publicly owned asset? Should the corridor be used for restored train service, for which there is little demand and economic benefit, or should this historic corridor be converted into one of the nation’s premier “rail trails” for biking, jogging, nature study,improved snowmobiling, etc?

    It’s not a matter of preventing development, but encouraging the kind of development that benefits the greatest number of people and is consistent with preserving (while capitalizing on) the special attributes of the Adirondack Park.

    • Paul says:

      The ACR is not that different that other developed areas within the park. Look at some of the condo developments and large camps around Lake Placid. And these are butting right up against wilderness areas. The question here is why is it “appropriate” in Lake Placid but not in Tupper Lake?

      • Hope says:


      • Alan Senbaugh says:

        It’s unlike anything the Adirondack park has ever seen! Do some research.

        • Paul says:

          I am sure she has. The only difference here is that it is all being done as one project. The only research you have to do is visit Lake Placid or Lake George.

        • Hope says:

          I live in Tupper Lake across the street from the proposed development. No worries about my research. I’ve been keeping pretty close tabs on the proposal. After all it is public record. As a member of one of the displaced hunting clubs I know the land intimately. I consider myself a conservationist not a preservationist. I just believe that the community, the APA and the Town Planners have approved this development and outsiders, as much as they would like to control all of us within the Blue Line, had their chance and should let Tupper Lake control their own destiny.

    • Paul says:

      “So does a a hotel project currently proposed for the shores of Lake Flower in Saranac Lake Village–the structure would be 60 feet high and 400 feet long. Is this out-of-scale monolith appropriate for the Park, or should it be half that size, and rather than dominate the lake fit comfortably into its site?”

      Dick, here is a great example of how the development is being done inside a hamlet (encouraged by APA law and most environmental groups) and yet you are still opposed to how it is being done.

      Also, there is nothing that is not “Adirondack” about large lake side hotels. Far from it they are quintessentially Adirondack.

      • Alan Senbaugh says:

        Whats your point?

        • Paul says:

          My point is that this project he describes fits with traditional ideas for Adirondack architecture (large lakeside hotels) and that it fits with the idea of clustering development within hamlet areas yet some are still opposed. I guess some folks are never happy?

          • Alan Senbaugh says:

            I think the APA deserves most of the blame. They are the ones that deemed the application complete when it was lacking in so many basic areas. Of course the developer is going to cut corners when the governing body allows them to. Shame on the APA. They hurt every interested party because they failed to do their job, follow the legal process and appropriately weigh the factors in the application.

            • Paul says:

              Alan, The project that Dick is referring to in his comment (“a hotel project currently proposed for the shores of Lake Flower in Saranac Lake Village”) and that I was responding to have not been reviewed by the APA at this point.

              You are talking about the ACR, right?

              Blame for what? It is most likely that the court will rule that the APA did its job and followed the law. The law (and their regulations) give them all sorts of flexibility. That flexibility applies whether they are approving an application or denying a permit.

              That flexibility will probably be used if this hotel project is allowed a variance for the height of the building. It is in a hamlet area where the APA would like development to be located so they will probably allow this to be done.

              As for the ACR project. If they say an application is complete. It is complete.

              But we will have to wait for the court to sort it out.

              • Alan Senbaugh says:

                Paul, Yes that comment is obviously regarding ACR. The stack is getting a bit long on the replies so I can see why you are confused. Yes, you made my point for me. If the APA considered the application they accepted as complete and the the info from the adjudicatory hearing that followed it is inconceivable that the permit would granted. I was often embarrassed for the developer and the LA group that they were presenting such crap. A shame a green development could have been planned. APA deserves most of the blame.

  15. Hope says:

    Dick, it’s your opinion that the ACR development is inappropriate for the area but you as well as others do not get to control whether or not a development is approved. That is left to the APA, and other zoning entities to do. If the current rules are followed and a project is approved then that should be the end. If you don’t like the current regs then you work on changing them. The project still has many other hurdles with other agencies. There is no clustering mandate in Resource Management designation. I believe that it was left vague so each project could be addressed individually. If you want only clustering then the regulations should be more specific. Any developer is going to go for maximum use of their asset within allowable parameters.

    • Paul says:

      There is some clustering in this plan. And some of the lots are large with mostly undeveloped space. Probably a lot more green space than most of us have on our property!

      This design also seems to leave riverfront land undeveloped. I think that is a pretty huge concession on the part of the developer. Probably one that is a mistake from a marketing standpoint. This was all taken into account as the project was reviewed and approved. It is all being looked at again by the court. And it will all be looked at again if a decision is appealed…..

      • Alan Senbaugh says:

        There is lots of clustering! All near the ski slope. Then there was the exurban great camps area Dr Clemons called “sprawl on steroids.”

    • Alan Senbaugh says:

      Well that’s the problem! The APA didn’t follow their mandate. A completely useless agency no matter what side of the issue you are on. The common ground here is to get rid of the APA!

      • Paul says:

        But they did follow their mandate. Again, like I said above. Their mandate allows them to do what they did in this case. I suspect the court will affirm that.

        • Alan Senbaugh says:

          No they didn’t. I understand you are quite fond of the organization but they are useless.

  16. adirondackjoe says:

    i still don’t think the project has a chance to’s going to be a big mess that will fail in the end. the developers don’t care about tupper lake, they care about profit.

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