The 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.
So 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.