Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Dave Gibson to APA: Protecting Open Space Should Be Paramount

Something’s not right when the APA stops writing about open space protection in permits for Resource Management and Rural Use lands – precisely where the State Legislature places great emphasis on open space and resource protection.

The latest example is the draft permit now on the APA website authorizing 15 new residences on 590 acres in Resource Management overlooking the High Peaks, to be accessed off Route 73 near Adirondack Loj Road in North Elba. This subdivision (Barile, Project No. 2016-0114) is up for a vote by the APA Thursday.

In the draft permit for Barile’s North Elba subdivision, project impacts and some mitigation to limit impacts of the 15 new homes, driveways, and accessory buildings are listed for a lot of resources, including Visual, Wetlands, Habitat, Soils, Surface Waters, Groundwater, Invasive Species, Vegetation, Infrastructure, Historic Sites or Structures, and Nearby Land Uses.

But not open space protection.

Nowhere in the Barile permit is there any mention of the impact of the subdivision on “the open spaces that are essential and basic to the unique character of the park” (APA Act). Preserving this unique character and the active land management actions make it economically viable are at the heart of the 1973 Resource Management classification affecting 1.5 million acres in the Park.

It’s true that the residences, guest buildings, and driveways in this draft permit are proposed on 110 acres in the north end, and that the remaining 475 acres to the south on either side of North Meadow Brook are being left largely undeveloped. That’s good. But, the permit doesn’t state why that’s good.

Nor does it ask and answer key questions pertaining to Resource Management (RM). Could the 15 new residential lots be designed to be more compact, designed so that their impacts on open space resources and wildlife, impacts which extend far beyond the actual building footprint, overlapped with each other rather than spread across 110 acres? We don’t know.

Under the draft permit each residence ranges from 5 – 12 acres. Why couldn’t the agency insist on a generous 5 acres per lot maximum and save a lot of habitat? The permit doesn’t offer any information here either.

The permit allows up to an acre of each lot to be cleared of trees and another half-acre per lot to be cleared for “filtered views” of the High Peaks. Why so much tree cutting authorized?

Three field days were spent by an ecological consultant conducting natural resource inventories of birds, mammals, vegetative habitats, etc. Is that sufficient in the most protected private land classification? Of the habitats that were identified, were the values of those habitats to sensitive Adirondack wildlife properly assessed and was that information applied to the project layout? One learns nothing about any of this in the permit language.

Open space uses are primary, says the law. Residential purposes of RM lands are secondary. Resource management lands “are 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. Open space uses, including forest management, agricultural and recreational activities, are found throughout these areas.”

In recent APA practice, residential uses in RM seem to have become primary and open space uses secondary without any change in the law. Much was argued and written about this at the contested Adirondack and Resort, but I don’t have to refer to the ACR to press this point. In 2015, a permit was written to New York Land and Lakes Development for 24 new residences on 1100 acres of Resource Management in Bleecker, Fulton County. As with the Draft Permit for Barile, no mention was made in that permit of open space uses and resources, and how the configuration of the subdivision would be protective of open space and resource management in compliance with the APA Act.

Yet, open space and resource protection considerations were a constant in past APA permits. In August, 2012 an APA permit for Highland Farmers, L.P. was written for a 13-lot subdivision in “green” in the Town of Keene. It granted six new principal buildings on RM, with potential for future development conditioned on “an Open Space Plan” being developed and “implementation measures for the permanent protection of open space resources as appropriate.” Under project impacts, that permit included a paragraph on Open Space which stated: “open space resources on proposed lots…will be permanently protected by deed covenants which prohibit the construction of any new principal buildings on those lots. Then comes this significant statement: “permanent protection of portions of Resource Management lands retained by the project sponsor is critical to a finding of compatibility of the proposed project…with the purposes, policies and objectives for such lands…in particular ‘to protect the delicate physical and biological resources’ and ‘to preserve the open spaces that are essential and basic to the unique character of the park.’”

If permanent protection of portions of RM lands retained by the applicant in Keene was “critical to a finding of compatibility of the proposed project” in 2012, why isn’t it just as critical for the applicant in North Elba in 2017? Particularly so because the Barile project is located in one of the most scenic and iconic locations in the Park.

Other past examples: In 2009, APA issued a permit for a 44-lot subdivision on over 8,000-acres at Brandreth Park, Long Lake, noting that: “Development related to all sections of the overall project is to be clustered within a 442 acre development area at the northern end of Brandreth Lake in the vicinity of a complex of 42 existing single family dwellings…” and that ““the project site represents a significant open space and ecological resource of the Adirondack Park surrounded by private open space and state-owned forest preserve. Nowhere in the Eastern United States do land resources exist in private holdings of comparable size and extent with the exception of Northern Maine.”

In June, 2006, APA issued a 29-lot subdivision permit for the Adirondack League Club in the Town of Webb, noting that: “the ALC’s long-term objective of preserving the open space character of its entire 35,000 acre landholding for open space recreational and forestry uses” was central to the agency finding that subdivision at one relatively small location on the northern end of the property would not conflict with the legislature’s Resource Management objectives.

Subdivision permits written for Persek in 2004 and for Diamond Sportsmen’s Club in 2002 also show how conscious the APA was concerning the purposes, policies and objectives of Resource Management. In Diamond Sportsmen, the permit noted the significance of keeping the property “in single ownership which will allow for long-term management of the site for hunting, fishing and other open space recreational uses while still allowing for forestry, wildlife management and natural resource protection.”

I could go further back in time, but I think readers get the point. APA permits for subdivisions in Resource Management should stop deferring to the applicant and start referring to the law and past precedent.

Permits should again start addressing why RM is important and what the permit is doing to protect open space resources.

Adirondack Wild is asking that a hearing be held concerning the Barile subdivision. Its reasons and the group’s objections to the current Draft Permit are here.

Will Adirondack Park Agency members simply rubber stamp the staff permit? We’ll find out Thursday.


David Gibson

Dave Gibson, who writes about issues of wilderness, wild lands, public policy, and more, has been involved in Adirondack conservation for nearly 25 years, much of that time as Executive Director of the Association for the Protection of the Adirondacks and then as first Executive Director of Protect the Adirondacks.

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 a partner in the nonprofit organization launched in 2010, Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve.




23 Responses

  1. Great article, Dave. Interesting and informative.

    I’m not sure who posted the accompanying map of the Adirondack Park, but I am personally amused by the choice. That’s not the official APA version, but an alternate map I created a few years ago. I’m flattered that someone confused the two! I like my version a lot better.

  2. Marcy Neville says:

    thanks

  3. Boreasfisher says:

    Thank goodness someone is paying attention to the process of granting development permits. We all suffer from these lapses that gradually diminish open spaces.

  4. Paul says:

    This permit very strongly protects open space. Did anyone look at the restrictions?

    Parcel A – 475.6 acres of the 590 acre total will remain undeveloped in perpetuity.

    Basically this permit is placing 80% of the land off limits to development forever.

    How is that not open space protection?

  5. Charlie S says:

    Paul says: “Basically this permit is placing 80% of the land off limits to development forever. How is that not open space protection?”

    20% is quite a large chunk of land to be taken away no matter how you look at it Paul. That’s 20% less woods. Open space protection is not protection when it’s parceled out. It would be much healthier were it left fully intact! As I said in a previous post you’re always going to be in the group that sides with invasive species Paul. It’s that conservative nature in you!

    • Paul says:

      I will brush off the insult.

      Charlie I assume that you live in a home just like folks will live in these homes.

      In this particular case they are being allowed to build these homes and in exchange for agreeing to not develop 80% of their land (much of what is being developed will not have buildings on it either), making sure that they do not disturb wetlands on their property, and many other restrictions.

      That is a good deal for the rest of us. Not perfect from a 100% open space protection perspective but pretty good. What percentage of your land that your house sits on is open space?

      Also, keeping this land as private as possible is a key to avoiding invasive species issues. Glad they are taking such good care of it.

  6. Charlie S says:

    ” those who like to tell others what to do on their own private property. In other words, @ssholes.”

    Many property owners are not the best stewards of their land and chumps come a dime a dozen M.P. The things I’ve seen people do to their property says a lot about how empty some people really are. There are those that are thoughtful about the environment that surrounds them there are those who can give a rats ass! The two are easily discernible one from the other!

    • M.P. Heller says:

      That’s part of living in a world with others Charlie. Not everyone does the same thing. Some people will do things that are compatible with what you think and others will do the opposite.

      This discussion is about private land. The fact that every private land owner doesn’t live in your image or my image doesn’t make them bad people, and it doesn’t give us the right to tell them how to live. If they meet the requirements for RM development they have paid their dues to the law and the community. The rest is just sour grapes.

      • Todd Eastman says:

        Zoning is a well established method of organizing development…

        … that’s all the private land APA restrictions are…

        … especially in lieu of the hamlet’s and the counties’ general lack of capacity for planning efforts.

  7. John says:

    Dave, Very good article. Just an observation, you make reference in the story on the ACR, and at the top of this page under “Latest Adirondack News” their is a link to an article in the ADE titled “9 Liens on Big Tupper Resort Related Lands”. Just coincidence? If the state of the ACR is any indication maybe we don’t have to worry so much about residential subdivisions in RM Lands.

  8. Tim-Brunswick says:

    Yawn…..another Dave Gibson rambling narrative.

  9. Paul says:

    It looks like this project will get this permit today.

    • Boreas says:

      Was it in doubt?

      • Paul says:

        Just saw the news and thought maybe it was relevant to this discussion.

        To answer your question I don’t think so – the project was clearly following the rules and now we have set aside for open space protection a large portion of that property that was previously open for development. I know that what some folks want is everything but sometimes we settle for the best we can get and here 80% is pretty good. The Adirondacks is a place where people (Invasive species as some would say, an important part of the ecosystem I would say) are trying to live in harmony with the environment. This is a great example of how that works.

  10. Charlie S says:

    Sure M.P. Every private land owner does not live in my image and it doesn’t make them bad people but that doesn’t make me a bad person (or an @sshole as you say) either just because I have an appreciation for things they don’t see value in. I can go on and on with some of the things I’ve seen private landowners do to their property and sure it’s their land they can do as they please and it’s just sour grapes and I’m not one for more laws to restrict our freedoms but I sure as heck wish there were more laws to protect the beautiful things I see that cannot put up their own defense!

    I realize that life doesn’t move in straight lines and that we all just don’t connect but I also realize that we are living in an era of destruction of species and natural resources and habitats in a way that is unprecedented and certainly not within the memory of man. Man the crazy ape I might add! Some of us are doing our parts to make this a better planet M.P. in earth-friendly kinda ways (which is sorely needed) Others….they just don’t care period! By far there’s more of the latter and sure,like you say… they’re not bad people they’re just clueless I’m sorry to say,caught up in their wee material worlds.

  11. terry V says:

    I would think that the people buying these homes would not want to see traffic on rt 73 or the Loj road from there homes so you would not see the houses. From google maps that property is has been logged and has bunch of roads to home sites which coukd be from old trailers or an earlier development project that went bust. It also appears to have a few ponds and some of them look manmade . the area is next to American way and Coyote way which have 10 homes that I never knew were in there.
    It looks like the pat where they want to build is pretty scared

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