Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Beamish: Vanquishing Rural Sprawl in the Adirondack Park

How best to protect the private backcountry of the Adirondacks while allowing for suitable development? How can we prevent future monstrosities like the resort project approved for Tupper Lake?

Here’s one way. A bill before the state legislature will help to preserve the biological integrity, wildlife and wildlife corridors, and the wonderful open-space character, of the Adirondack Park. It would require the state’s Adirondack Park Agency (APA) to mandate “conservation design” for future subdivisions over a certain size, starting with an ecological and forest stewardship plan for the entire property. The developer would then concentrate building lots for minimum impact, ensuring that at least 75 percent of the tract remains in contiguous and intact open space.

When the APA set up shop in the early 1970s, its land-use law required that residential development be done on “substantial acreages or in small clusters.” Since then, environmental thinking has evolved. Conservation science now recognizes that the spatial pattern is at least as important as the density of development and that subdividing land into “substantial acreages” is ecologically damaging.

When the APA approved the Adirondack Club and Resort (ACR) on six thousand wooded acres near Tupper Lake, the agency seemed frozen in the past. Much of the seven-hundred-unit development will be concentrated at the base of Mount Morris, which is good; what’s bad is that two dozen “Great Camp” lots, ranging in size from twenty-five to more than a hundred acres, will be spread around the entire property. While the ACR developers claim this is the best way to preserve a natural landscape, much of the vast tract will be compromised by roads, driveways, houses, guest accommodations, garages, cars, pets, and human activities.

Each dwelling will create an “ecological-effect zone” that reaches well beyond the immediate building site. For birds, habitat disruption can extend for thirty acres, and the impact goes well beyond that for small mammals such as marten, fisher, and fox.

Concentrating development, and overlapping the impact zones, is clearly the preferred alternative. This practice is known as “clustering,” which does not have to mean crowding houses together. In the Tupper Lake project, for example, five-acre lots would have provided plenty of privacy while preserving up to 90 percent of the entire tract in continuous, commonly owned open space. (The drawings with this article illustrate the right and wrong way to develop.)

What are the prospects for the conservation-design bill? Over the decades, the Republican state Senate has tried to weaken or abolish the APA—while the Democratic state Assembly has successfully resisted. Alternatively, bills to strengthen the APA always originate in the Assembly and die in the Senate. So how about this time we sweeten the pot a little? Along with mandating conservation design, why not offer the developer a 10 percent bonus of extra lots/units beyond the APA’s density limitations?
This painless compromise might finally gain Senate approval for better protecting our Adirondack Park against destructive fragmentation.

The bill number is A05451. Please urge your state senator and Assembly member to enact it.

The drawings from Randall Arendt’s book Conservation Design for Subdivisions show the right and wrong way to design a housing development. In the cluster development (top), most of the land is left undisturbed.

This Viewpoint was first published in the November/December edition of the Adirondack Explorer. Subscribe here.

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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).


17 Responses

  1. Keith Gorgas says:

    UN Agenda 21. Depopulation of rural areas by decreasing economic opportunity for working class people. Reduce the earth’s population by 4/5s . Create wide swaths for animal migration and reproduction. Herd the lemmings into high density habitation. The Club of Rome comes to life.

    • Todd Eastman says:

      Thanks for the humor…

      … or treat your paranoia…

    • James Falcsik says:

      Keith, you are right on point with your identification of this Bill amending existing NYS law with “sustainable development” principles set in motion by Agenda 21. The text of A05451 is here and the changes to the existing law are well defined:


      From the text, Section 802, amended subdivision 18-a: “Ecological preservation and forest stewardship plan” means a detailed plan for the design and development of a conservation subdivision which: (a.) has been prepared by qualified experts in the subject areas covered by the plan”…and the following excerpt a bit further in amended subdivision 18-a, c (4): “the need to preserve large intact forest tracts for protection of wildlife habitat and biodiversity, especially for protection of species native to or otherwise requiring such tracts: for watershed preservation, and for mitigation of climate change, while at the same time allowing sustainable forestry if desired;”…

      Planning based around climate change and ecosystems by “qualified experts” who are probably not local planners interested in individual property rights; these are signatures of the Agenda 21 sustainable development policies. Look over the rest of the bill’s text and see where the words “serve to guide” has been changed to “determine” and “should” has been changed to “shall” concerning residential development policies.

      As for Todd Eastman’s comment, there is no humor or paranoia involved; this is the reality of the UN Agenda 21 program being instituted at the local level for residential development. See http://nwri.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/07/How-Public-Officials-can-Recognize-Agenda-21.pdf NYS Gov. Cuomo and “Cleaner, Greener NY” mentioned at this link.

      • Todd Eastman says:

        … and you prefer planning to be conducted by untrained politicians and developers seeking profits?

        Planning in the Park is a long-term process intended to protect investments and environmental functions. This is apparently a problem for you?

    • Boreas says:

      Regarding UN Agenda 21, I’ll not comment, letting others believe what they will about its alleged indoctrination in the US. But I will say “depopulation” certainly didn’t seem to be a concern for ACR. If successful, it will result in a net gain in population in the Tupper Lake area. Whether people are clustered or spread out at ACR has little to do with Agenda 21. It is a private development within a century-old Park. Placing some limitations on lot size and placement is nothing new. In my opinion, pulling out Agenda 21 to cast a negative pall on anything limiting unrestrained development does seem paranoid, or at the least obtuse.

  2. Paul says:

    I think it depends not just on size but on where a development is. I personally see the ACR project as one that fits with having development occur near hamlet areas – a stated goal of several conservation groups. At least that is their claim (I have seen some recently come out in opposition to projects right in the hamlets?). ACR is right next to Tupper Lake. A large portion of that area is already developed to a pretty serious extent. I don’t really think it can properly be called the “back country”. The waterfront that they own was left undeveloped. A major concession for a project like that. One that might sink it from a marketing perspective. Science here is always going to tell us that less or no development is the best from an environmental perspective.

  3. Boreasfisher says:

    Getting closer to a cluster development or smart development planning practice in the Adirondacks would be a major step toward better resource conservation without preventing development of appropriate spaces. Can’t say I fully understand the proposed compromise but it sounds like a step in the right direction.

  4. scott says:

    This is the first I have read about this idea being turned into law. I wonder if any public hearings will be held? Or is the goal to pass it without public discussion and lay it on the people here as a surprise? That won’t go over well.

    I would guess this will be controversial. Personally, I think 44 acres per house is plenty of space. And I support Paul’s description of the ACR.

  5. CommunityGuy says:

    Dick is correct. Conservation Design should always be the goal of planned development. It is beneficial for the environment AND beneficial for long term economic value. It also reduces development costs by minimizing infrastructure. Bad development destroys both the environment and value.

    For to long the “antis” have insisted that any restraint on developers harms humans in the Park. If you want generations to live in and invest in our area, PROTECT THE AREA, and enable people to build at the same time.

    Separating the environment from sale price harms both.

    Conservation Design reduces waste of the environment and supports long term value. It is a big improvement over current laws and practices. We should support it. It’s the best way forward for humans in the Park.

    • Boreas says:

      I agree – and not just within the Park. At some point humans need to deal with the fact that, in order to survive, they need to become part of and enhance the natural environment we have systematically destroyed over several millennia since becoming “civilized”.

  6. ALEX DUSCHERE says:

    Mr. Beamish is correct in advocating Randal Arendt’s cluster developing. However, I was led to believe that property’s in the park were regulated so as to prevent large land holdings by bottom line developers from creating these suburb like islands in the park. It will not be long before a uncaring Adirondack outsider proposes a condo or a multi story monstrosity to contaminate the landscape.

  7. Paul says:

    If there is the cost savings described by one comment above, and we know that many people are interested in environmental sensitivity as a selling point – why have a law? Let developers use this as a marketing tool. Make the Adirondacks the go to place for people that want sustainable places to live. Go to the legislature and you are up against some serious special interests that will try their best to make it not happen. Even if you have a few smaller special interest groups that are in favor.

    • scott says:

      Good idea Paul. How about organizing an education campaign for larger landowners. There probably are not too many of them. Get them to buy into the whole idea, embrace it. It should work with the benefits that are argued adding value to a project.

      Trying to do this with a law written in some back room without any public input at all seems designed to get people upset.

  8. Glenn L. Pearsall says:

    For too long environmental groups have focused on such relatively minor issues and fought economically important growth within the Park. Better they should have protected our environmentally-sensitive lakes, ponds and wetlands from development and encouraged economically crucial growth in areas of old “working landscapes” .

    • Boreas says:

      “Better they should have protected our environmentally-sensitive lakes, ponds and wetlands from development and encouraged economically crucial growth in areas of old “working landscapes” .”


      “Environmental groups” cannot really protect anything unless they own the land/waters in question. What environmental groups can do is advocate for environmental protection and minimally environmentally damaging or intrusive development on private, state, and federal lands. Within the ADK Park, APA and DEC make the final decisions on development, not environmental groups. Environmental groups, local & state government, developers, and the public all have plenty of input into the process.

      Environmentalist groups have lost plenty of fights to development concerns – and not for lack of effort! We focus on these “relatively minor issues” that we may be able to institute on significant development that is certain to be adopted. Better to get something than nothing. It is simply looking at how to distribute and implement the same amount of development to minimize environmental impacts such as forest fragmenting and water run-off. Sensitive clustering of buildings/roadways/open space is only one of many techniques.

      • Davis Moquin says:

        Clustering in the Park and for that matter outside of the Park simply both good economic and environmental sense. It’s too bad that it has taken so long to plan and regulate in that manner. Perhaps we’re finally nearing a paradigm shift here.

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