Sunday, March 1, 2020

Woodward Lake Proposal Tests Park Agency

Woodward Lake courtesy Adirondack AtlasThe developers who want to turn the small, private Woodward Lake in the Town of Northampton into a housing subdivision have agreed to move a handful of lots away from the water and change some boundary lines. However, the overall plan still doesn’t conserve open space or protect wildlife habitat and should be rejected.

Sadly, it is unlikely to be rejected. The revised subdivision plan only reinforces the need for state legislation mandating clustering of homes away from sensitive landscape features such as water, wetlands and steep slopes while retaining large open spaces for wildlife.

So the proposed Woodward Lake subdivision is looking like a replay of the Adirondack Club & Resort (Tupper Lake) and the Woodworth Lake subdivisions (Town of Gloversville), where the APA had the authority to require a conservation-minded development plan but balked at requiring the developer to comply.

It stands as further proof that the NYS Legislature must require conservation-minded development plans for major subdivisions in the Adirondack Park’s most remote and sensitive locations. We have tried to make the current rules work for nearly 50 years. They aren’t working and need to be replaced.

Assembly Environmental Conservation Committee Chairman Steven Englebright (D-Setauket) has proposed a Conservation Design bill that would require clustering (grouping) of new development in the least sensitive locations, avoiding critical wildlife habitat and protecting water quality. The bill is sponsored in the Senate by Environmental Conservation Committee Chairman Todd Kaminsky (D-Long Beach). The bill has diverse support and should be approved and signed into law.

Some state and local officials had said they felt it was possible for the Adirondack Park Agency (APA) to work with developers and use its existing rules to modify major subdivision plans in the park’s most remote and sensitive locations. That has proven to be wishful thinking. Instead, the developers resisted the ideas of clustering and open space conservation, opting to maximize the potential development allowed under the APA’s 1972-vintage rules for development. The APA has not stood up to them. The Agency still has the opportunity to do that.

Woodward Lake Development mapSo the new plan looks a lot like the original plan, which is a bunch of lots shaped like piano keys around the shoreline of a tiny lake, with a double row of houses on both sides of the lake and nearly a mile of sprawling roadway connecting only 26 houses.

Even the 170 acres of conservation area proposed (on a 1,170-acres parcel) is protected only through a homeowners’ association agreement, which lasts only as long as the association does. It is not the same as a permanent conservation easement owned by a third party such as the state or a land trust. And it is tiny.

By clustering the homes around the lake itself, the developers appear to be following the general idea of clustering. But the shore of the lake is the last place that ought to be the focus of all the new development. The tract’s shoreline wildlife habitat is some of the rarest and most sensitive on the parcel.

Shoreline clear-cutting and development will use up some of the parcel’s most important wildlife habitat while exponentially adding to the potential for polluted runoff reaching the lake – during construction, and in every significant weather event that follows.

Developers could have used the few existing structures on this parcel as anchors for development that is oriented away from the lake shore and the large wetlands on the south end of the lake. Instead, they propose to intensify the shoreline development and add three new layers to it by adding a row of homes across the Collins-Gifford Valley Road from existing structures, plus new homes on both sides of a proposed road in the currently undeveloped east side of the lake.

The plan also increased the road mileage around the lake by 50% or more, increasing its potential exposure to road salt and invasive species infestations.

All of this exposes the APA’s current rules and mandates as inadequate to the task of protecting the park’s most vulnerable wild places. Worse, the developers knew they would not be forced to do anything they didn’t want to do. Like the Woodworth Lake and Adirondack Club & Resort reviews, the developers didn’t want to cluster anything and sought to reduce the open space they would conserve. Page 12 of the new application notes:

“The WL project was discussed with the Town of Northampton Planning Board at their May 5 2018 and November 14, 2018 meetings. At the initial meeting with the planning board, “Conservation Subdivision” design was discussed and was determined that it didn’t really meet our vision or customer demands for this site. On June 27, 2018, a variance was granted by the Town of Northampton Zoning Board of Appeals to reduce the (open space) area requirement in the Resource Conservation Zone of 45 acres per principle dwelling down to 30 acres per principle dwelling.”

The two prior large-lot subdivisions illustrated that the APA has the authority require more responsible planning, but will not exercise that authority. The result is another irresponsible development proposal. In process or product, the new proposed development plan at Woodward Lake is not a conservation development.

The Governor can make the APA work better by signing a Conservation Design bill into law and by filling the large number of vacancies on the APA board with nominees who will demand more of major project developers.

The cost of getting development wrong is too high. The “new” development proposal for Woodward Lake shows it’s time to pass Conservation Design legislation, reform the APA Act and preserve the Adirondack Park with a new slate of APA board nominees with expertise in planning, conservation law, science and wild lands management.

Map of Woodward Lake courtesy Adirondack Atlas. Map of Woodward Lake development plans provided by Adirondack Council.

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John Sheehan

Before John Sheehan joined the Adirondack Council's staff in 1990, he was the managing editor of the Malone Evening Telegram, and previously worked as a journalist for the Troy Record, (Schenectady) Daily Gazette, Watertown Daily Times and Newsday. For the past 20 years, John has been the voice of the Adirondack Council on radio and television, and on the pages of local, regional and national media.




11 Responses

  1. sally gagne says:

    a few years back..deepening the lake on the dIke(collins gifford valley rd.) by Delaney construction was stopped because of the painted turtles…there are a number of cellar holes where people used to live, that did not bother the lake or the habitat..loons,beavers geese,ducks etc.,.I know because I have lived here for 82 years..I .remember the fields and most of the houses….Mrs.Winnie and I stopped them from spraying along the power lines with help from the governor.I think Rockefeller. also, the run off from so many homes will also effect the great Sacandaga…I am not against the owner developing but common sense and conservation should be the priority.PS…the placid trail is also there.

  2. Lance M. Gundersen says:

    There is no Town of Gloversville. There is a Town of Johnstown which surrounds the City of Gloversville on three sides, including the north side which separates the city from the Town of Bleecker in which Woodworth Lake resides.

    • John Sheehan John Sheehan says:

      That was a careless mistake on my part. Thank you for correcting it. I meant to say it was near Gloversville, but you are right. Bleecker is the correct town.

  3. Nativedale says:

    Who owns the property ? New York State , Adirondack Council, APA or John Sheehan. Let the APA do their job .

    • Dale Lewis says:

      Didn’t you read the article?
      It’s highly unlikely that the APA will do what’s right for the Adk Park; welcome to suburbia sprawl, even if it is on a relatively small scale.
      Is this how the Adk. Park is supposed to be managed; just approve whatever developers decide are best for them economically?

  4. CommunityGuy says:

    Conservation design is the absolutely best way to develop property. It maintains the high quality environment, which is the basis of property value, AND it costs less in initial construction. It does take more thought and skill (which is cheap compared to construction costs).

    I strongly suggest acquiring the services of a Landscape Architect for a better plan that will cost less up front.

  5. Big Burly says:

    I usually pay close attention and regard for issues that Mr. Sheehan writes about.

    The suggestion he makes that NYS buy the land and dictate how it will be used is however wrong.

    The APA has guidelines, established over many years. We already have enough mandates from Albany on how we should be living our lives.

    Enough! Let the process run its course without further meddling.

  6. Charlie S says:

    Dale Lewis says: “Is this how the Adk. Park is supposed to be managed; just approve whatever developers decide are best for them economically?”

    It’s all about the money Dale! You know that! Why do you think the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge has recently been opened up to drill and pollute? How about the national parks out west! Recently opened for oil and gas corporations to have free reign to rape, pillage, pollute. Our national heritage! Public land! Money first screw everything else!

  7. David P Medici says:

    This pisses me off on all kinds of levels. 1.This is the Adirondack Park, and I know that its threaded and pacelled with private, and forever wild lands and in general the uneasy coexistence is a bit blurry, but was mostly protected as I understood it, from developers. 2. The woods once gone to developers regardless of the reasons, methodologies or purpose, they are gone. Habitat loss, and the encroachment of the very thing that The Park was supposed to protect. 3. More than 40 years ago the State of New York floated the idea that it should be turned into a National Park. My parents were in an uproar and so too where many of their friends that also lived in the Park. 4. You often can’t have the cake and not take a slice for yourself. My parents moved to private land around The Great Sacandaga Lake back in the early 1950s. They along with many of my parents and their parents generation moved onto lakes scattered around lakes scattered in the lower ADK., Private land is private land, and the reason why the ADK has lasted as long as it has. But if there is an outcry about Woodwark lake, then maybe the PARK, or the Nature Conservancy, or Forever wild land grants should intervene and kill this proposal. 5.f developers are so hungry (which they are) to denigrate and cheapen such a wilderes by opening up housing then we have little hope of another and another and another doing the very same thing. The damn of prevention runs strong with the Park Agency. Can they do nothing but stand by and let this happen? Is NY state so starved for real estate that they are willing in tough times to forego the most basic of Upstate draws to nature, The Adirondack Park? — If that is the case, then I am ashamed of the Adirondack Park Agency and the people who are there with their hands out to benefit from back room deals that made this most likely possible in the first place.

    • Boreas says:

      David,

      Not that it lets APA off the hook for their responsibilities or actions, but they have been purposely (?) understaffed by the Cuomo administration. Several of the people have actually stayed on voluntarily past their term. Also, by being understaffed, the mix of development vs. conservation votes can be managed by Albany. Ultimately, the direction and composition of the APA is controlled politically by appointment from Albany. Apparently, the current administration likes the current composition, or they would change it – there is certainly room for more staffing.

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