Friday, September 23, 2022

Another large resort subdivision. Still no conservation design.

jay subdivision

I just skimmed through Eric Stackman’s recent replies to the Adirondack Park Agency. See the APA website, apa.ny.gov, large-scale subdivisions. Mr. Stackman, a Miami, Florida developer, wants to construct a 120-lot resort subdivision in Jay, Essex County, above the East Branch of the Ausable River, apparently within sightlines near Whiteface Mountain, Asgaard Farm and many other viewing locations

When first proposed one year ago, Adirondack Wild and others critiqued the absence of information in the original 2021 application. We told the APA then that the public should not be required to debate the absence of information, but given the chance to determine if this subdivision was well designed assuming that good information about the resources on and near the project area was provided.

Now that somewhat better information about what lives and grows on the 385 acres has come into the APA during August, it appears that community-wide concerns about Stackman’s proposal are amply justified. There appears to be a large number of actual and potential negative environmental impacts from his proposal.

The preferred layout of the lots and over 2 miles of new roadways would take place on more than ten acres of slopes designated as steep or severe. That’s not good. Those are obvious red flags where development should not take place. So is the fact that parts of the subdivision would be occurring well within the one-quarter mile Recreational River area adjacent to the East Branch Ausable, and its runoff would be entering that river. Parts of the subdivision are also lying directly over a mapped aquifer. The project’s visibility could also be very significant, as it would be located on high ground seen from nearly all directions, from both sides of the river.

jay resort

The area of Rt. 9 where the Jay subdivision entrance is proposed. Photo by Roger Gray

Then, there are the actual and potential impacts on significant wildlife habitats and ecological communities. The application acknowledges that “the property contains two significant wildlife habitats, Central Oak-Pine and Northern Swamp. The Central Oak-Pine Forest is located in the north central portion of the property and Northern Swamp is located along the western boundary of the property. The Central Oak-Pine Forest is approximately 3 acres in size and the Northern Swamp is approximately 7 acres. Planned development projects have been situated outside the Northern Swamp area; however, the proposed road used to access the club house would be located within the Central Oak-Pine Forest. Construction of the road would require approximately 0.5 acres of tree removal within the Central Oak-Pine Forest.”

He also acknowledges that “the property contains one significant natural community, Pine-Northern Hardwood Forest. Pine-Northern Hardwood Forest within the property boundary is considered a high quality occurrence of an uncommon community type, and occurs in two separate areas. The forests are very large, moderately diverse communities with relatively large, intact, putative old growth cores, in a moderately intact landscape…the club house, road segments, and houses would be located in the north central portion…construction of these projects would require 4.4 acres of tree removal.”

The applicant says such forest removal would be minor compared with the overall acreage. Clearly, he is not familiar yet with the principles of forest fragmentation and ecological impact zones – principles, terms and definitions quite familiar to the APA. The impacts from this and other disturbance are by no means limited to their physical footprint, but extend far beyond that footprint. This has been shown by extensive Adirondack research conducted by Dr. Michale Glennon and Dr. Heidi Kretser since circa 2006.

A few years ago, Dr. Michael Klemens, a conservation biologist and herpetologist, joined Drs. Glennon, Kretser, and the APA’s own resource experts (wetland biologist Dan Spada, among others) in science-based presentations about the ecological impact zone around the proposed Adirondack Club and Resort subdivision near Tupper Lake. Those ecological impacts, said the APA and external experts, could extend hundreds of meters beyond a given new houselot and road immersed within that Adirondack forest ecosystem. The same principles would apply here in Jay. The impacts from the new roadways and lots, in amount, kinds of use and seasonality of use, will heighten levels of habitat fragmentation at the Jay location.

Dr. Klemens subsequently authored an educational guidebook Pathways to a Connected Adirondack Park – Practical Steps To Better Land Use Decisions. It is available online at adirondackwild.org, and hard copies are also available from Adirondack Wild. In it, Dr. Klemens wrote:

“If a single word can adequately describe the ecological challenges faced by the Adirondack Park that word is fragmentation.  Habitat fragmentation is a threat to a region’s ecological continuum which is a measure of its interconnectedness to surrounding areas and its ability to withstand damaging changes, its resiliency.

Fragmentation occurs when natural or human processes break large contiguous areas of open space into ever-smaller, isolated patches.

In the Adirondack Park, human activities are the dominant and primary drivers of habitat fragmentation, creating simplified landscapes that interfere with ecosystem processes, disrupt species movements, and cause the loss of critical habitats.  This in turn leads to the loss of ecosystem services that human communities within the Adirondack Park depend upon including clean water, flood control, forest product production as well as diminished outdoor recreational opportunities, especially hunting and fishing.

The disruption of the ecological continuum (i.e., the interconnectedness and its corresponding resiliency) at a scale of thousands upon thousands of acres poses the largest all-encompassing threat to the Adirondack Park…Ecosystems, species, and genetic diversity are not static, and continually evolve in response to change. This is increasingly important in this era of dramatic global climate change as species and ecosystems will have to rearrange themselves upon the landscape, and can only do so in a landscape that is ecologically inter-connected.

Fragmentation is described as an all-encompassing threat precisely because it amplifies the effects of a series of hazards to the ecological continuum, such as the deleterious landscape-scale effects of climate change, the misguided management of recreational access to wilderness areas, the lack of cumulative ecological impact analyses, and the character and placement of development projects, whether a single home or a large scale sub-division.”

Summarizing, Dr. Klemens listed these effects of habitat fragmentation in the Adirondacks and elsewhere:

  • Reduces ecological diversity
  • Increases pollution, water, air, light and noise
  • Reduces an area’s resiliency to change, such as climate change
  • Fosters a disconnect between humans and nature
  • Creates non-sustainable patterns of growth that require continuous infusions of capital
  • Creates technological dependency increasing societal vulnerability to events, such as flooding
  • Compromises human health, both physical and emotional.

It does not take a scientist to scrutinize Mr. Stackman’s own composite maps of resources overlain by his development to conclude that this project as proposed will highly fragment a valuable Adirondack upland forest community. None of the ecological impacts of Mr. Stackman’s proposal have been assessed yet. They will have to be if the APA follows its own Large-Scale Subdivision application requirements. According to the APA, the applicant must:

“Submit a to-scale sketch map of the project sponsor’s preferred project design that shows proposed building envelopes, driveways, roads, limits of clearing, and other areas of disturbance, and avoids impacts to any sensitive resources identified through the Resource and Existing Features Mapping and Inventory. The preferred project design should minimize the creation of new areas of disturbance on the project site to the greatest extent practicable, and should concentrate development to the greatest extent practicable.” And, says the APA, the applicant must submit to-scale maps of “the alternatives that may avoid and/or minimize impacts to resources as described in the Agency’s December 23, 2021 Notice.”

Instead of providing alternative configurations that avoid or minimize impacts to resources, Mr. Stackman just sent the APA two alternatives that he admits create even more negative impacts than his preferred layout by extending and spreading out project impacts even further to the west. So, he still has not complied with Agency requirements to show the public alternative layouts that avoid or minimize impacts to resources.

As for the proposal’s impacts on the affordability of housing in the Jay-Wilmington-Whiteface Mtn. area, dozens of comments about those likely negative impacts have already been submitted to the Agency by affected community members.

This proposal must be subject to an eventual adjudicatory public hearing because it so easily meets every one of the Agency’s criteria for a hearing. Once again, the public spotlight is shining on the Agency in Ray Brook to perform according to law, regulations and planning for which it is responsible, and to the standards it established in its large-scale subdivision application adopted in 2018.

Image at top: A sketch of the Stackman subdivision, submitted by the applicant

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Dave Gibson, who writes about issues of wilderness, wild lands, public policy, and more, has been involved in Adirondack conservation for over 30 years as executive director of the Association for the Protection of the Adirondacks, executive director of Protect the Adirondacks and currently as managing partner with Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve

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




32 Responses

  1. Paul says:

    “High ground”, in the Adirondacks, is where you don’t have wetlands that you don’t want to impact. It looks like the building are all clustered in one area (mostly) that is good right? Not that anyone really want’s neighbors that close in a second home in the woods?

  2. David Gibson says:

    Paul, wetland protection without healthy upland buffers may be legally OK, but it is not functionally OK. In other words, healthy wetlands and their habitats absolutely depend upon healthy, relatively undeveloped upland buffer areas of 750 feet around them to preserve the way they perform ecologically – including all the benefits for human communities. The developer’s preferred configuration appears like a cluster until you look at the overlays of the resources he submitted, see how many are directly and indirectly affected, and consider the non-overlapping impacts on those resource of his 6 culdesacs and their roadways, 2 plus miles of new road.

    • Suzanne says:

      David,
      Your comments regarding wetland buffers is spot on! Too often, the APA has compromised on prior wetland setback buffers set by the Agency during times of responsible environmental management, and most recently.. The previous comment regarding high ground “is where you don’t have wetlands ” that are highly sensitive to impact is very short sighted. Without upland and lowland balance and safe setbacks, we will lose all that is treasured in the ADK park!

  3. Gary Hartwick says:

    Why not just end new development within the Park? Current buildings could be allowed to be updated within limited limits so it doesn’t become and remain one big slum. People are leaving NYS in droves and we see no need for new permanent housing or for adding additional temporary housing for part time folks. We would like to see the total ongoing cost to the taxpayers of NYS for maintaining what we currently have for tourists and full or part time residents in the Park.

    • Ethan says:

      “Why not just end new development within the Park?“

      I agree completely. When does it end?
      Think about it: Destruction of pristine wilderness to satisfy a developer’s dream? Is it worth it? We should be scaling down, not up.

  4. Alex Desjardins says:

    Mr. Gibson’s list of the effects of fragmentation are dubious at best. Will Stackman’s plan really compromise mental health?? What important ‘ non-sustainable patterns of growth that require continuous infusions of capital’ is he referring to that are bad? Jay needs an infusion of money just to keep things afloat. Gibson seems to a hatchet man being used repeatedly as a means for environmentalists to place roadblocks for developments, no matter how responsible the designs.

  5. JB says:

    When we see everything as a numbers game, it’s easy to lose sight of just how substantial a project like this is. If we did play the numbers game, even just considering 350 acres relative to the benchmark of “two hundred principal buildings per square mile” for Low Intensity Use (I may be wrong, but I think that’s where this is zoned), 120 units would exceed that. But, again, the APLUDP was not designed to turn the permitting process into a game of “let’s see how close we can come to exceeding the guidelines”. Nobody wins in that game.

    The most basic problem with unscrupulous development of natural areas is that it can’t be undone. To imply that we shouldn’t ask questions about projects like this — that we should dismiss conservation design just because it conflicts with an overriding economic dogma — is utter nonsense.

  6. Alex Desjardins says:

    Sorry, but the claim that Gibson’s is a “non-biased study” is ridiculous. Read it again. Where is the discussion of the local economy? That Jay is floundering economically and needs to expand their tax base? That main street is almost a ghost town and many residents are below the poverty line?
    Claims that this issue must now be political seem to just be furthering partisan efforts on behalf of outsiders. It is worth noting that the public commentary on Stackman’s development proposal was primarily from non-residents of Jay. Where are the positions of the town planning board? And, there has been little mention that a lot of the acreage is in the hamlet and not even subject to APA jurisdiction.

    • Lee Nellis says:

      Beyond it being one planet, the Adirondacks are more clearly than most places remaining in the NE US, one ecosystem. There are no outsiders.

      As for local economic impact, that is an empirical question that the APA chooses not to explore. There are hundreds of fiscal impact studies on exurban residential development in the US and, while there is some variation from place to place, most of them find that the costs to the community exceed the revenues. Small NY towns provide a limited slate of services, with limited infrastructure. Taxes here are not negligible, but It doesn’t take much in the way of additional demand, particularly demand from folks who are accustomed to the level of services in affluent suburbs, to overwhelm the system. We don’t know what will happen in this case because no one (neither the APA nor conservation groups or towns) ever runs the numbers.

      It is true that this type of project may increase possibilities for some types of local enterprises (landscaping, catering, etc.), but that is: a) independent of the design (ie people would still hire caterers if the homes were sited in a better way) and b) problematic because this project will make no contribution to housing for those who provide services.

      Requiring both evidence-based conservation design and provision of a share of perpetually affordable units should be a minimum in the Adirondacks.

  7. Todd Eastman says:

    It sure seems like the area sure needs more 2nd homes…🙄

  8. David Gibson says:

    I direct attention to the latest APA reply (apa.ny.gov) to this developer, a second Notice of Incompleteness, and asking for a new design based on composite overlays of resource information. I don’t often write with appreciation, but I do now – with appreciation to the APA staff for the care taken in their 2nd Notice and set of needed addendums and standards before deeming the application complete. So far, APA is doing the job their application expects of large subdividing applicants.

  9. Paul says:

    The APA’s job is to ‘administer’ the APA act as best it can. It is not their job to limit development, as some here would clearly like them to do, it is their job to be sure that the proposed development adheres to the law. If you have issues with the law that is a question you want to raise with the legislators. I am sure there are plenty of legislators that would be happy to re-open the issue of the APA. Even environmental groups these days, not just developers, are highly critical of the agency.

  10. Alex Desjardins says:

    Since it’s inception, the APA has made it clear that it wants “clustered deveopments in and around hamlets”. The clustered development in Jay as proposed seems to be just what the APA has been pushing for since it’s inception. Of course, if a developer can’t provide a plan to deal with sewage or sediment and erosion control, the APA’ job is to oversee and adjudicate those regulatory issues. But despite some peoples’ claims, it’s not a developer’s responsibility to build low-income housing.

    Most people commenting on the Jay development proposal don’t remember Ausable Forks when it was a prosperous town, nor know that one of the first things the APA did back around 1972 was to shut down the mill in Ausable Forks, thereby putting the whole town, as well as a lot of surrounding residents, on welfare for the next couple of generations. If jobs were to be had, people took them eagerly: there just weren’t many jobs to be had — due to all the road blocks to local development!
    The last proposed development (mid-1980’s) was not allowed because environmentalist groups claimed a certain moth was more important than any natives. What next?

    If a development that would bring employment were to come to Ausable Forks, it would be like a ray of sunshine in this depressed community. There are plenty of ‘natives’ who already have housing that would eagerly take the work.

    Mr Gibson’s opinion by no means makes clear how being in a sight line 15 miles from Whiteface would adversely affect the footprint of Ausable Forks when Jay, Wilmington and Lake Placid are much closer and much more in evidence.

    Finally, it remains unclear how the proposed development can be accused of ‘fostering mental illness’ per Mr. Gibson’s original assessment: perhaps he can clarify?

    • JB says:

      Alex, is your argument that this large-scale subdivision and others like it should proceed without going through an application process, or without a review process? And is that because: a) this prevents the Town of Jay from “expanding its tax base”, b) this deprives existing residents of the Town of Jay of opportunities for employment, or c) this is unnecessary seeing that it this subdivision is located in a hamlet?

      These are three very different (even unrelated) arguments. Lee addresses a) and b) in his comment. There is little evidence for and much evidence against the arguments that a requirement for a design review for large-scale subdivisions economically disadvantages municipalities or residents. And argument c) is easy to disprove by looking at the application (https://apa.ny.gov/Projects/P2021-0248/20211019-FromApplicant.pdf). If this were in a hamlet rather than a Low-Intensity Use Area, it would not have been appropriate to file this particular type of application at all.

      I’m surprised that you didn’t mention argument d): that land-use planning infringes upon inherent rights held by private property owners. That one is potentially more difficult to debunk; though, in this case, even most proponents of that argument may shy away from this one.

    • Lee Nellis says:

      It needs to be acknowledged here that it is painful to watch formerly vital small towns change. That can be true whether they are declining or whether they are being gentrified (and those two trends are not mutually exclusive). I come from a place where there is no longer a high school or even a gas station. But it is also a place where there is absolutely no land use regulation.

      If the APA (and anyone who reads these exchanges on a regular basis knows that I am a critic of the agency) were the cause, then the small towns of central NY or Kansas or anywhere else, where there is, at the most minimal land use regulation and often none at all would be better off, maybe even thriving. But they aren’t. The data show pretty clearly that things in the Adirondacks are not as grim as in many other rural regions.

      We as a society chose the path of individualism, domination, and colonialism (and all that follows: imperialism, neoliberalism, the hollowing out of rural communities) over the path of community a long time ago. The buzzards keep coming home to roost, but we seem to be unable to find another way. The proposed development needs to respond with a re-design and a commitment to civic responsibility. It IS developers’ role to deal with the consequences of what they propose whatever those consequences may be. There is no difference in principle between the impacts on the watershed and those on the housing stock.

      • JB says:

        And civic engagement, after all, is the entire premise underlying the APA process, right? Not only does it facilitate engagement between developers and government, but it requires, in principle, that the government is engaged and responsible.

        Also, of course, engagement occurs between governments and civilians. Case in point: the preliminary response to public comments about Wild Forest Basic Guideline No. 4 is hot off the presses, and comments from “environmental groups” (like Adirondack Wild) are clearly not being automatically heeded. Nor did Lee’s very original methodological critique of the APA’s approach receive a serious response. (I’ll dare to say that perhaps the APA and DEC should not be responding to critiques about their own methodology to begin with, lest we end up in the frightening situation where people like Lee become Socrates in Athens.)

        But the lesson here is that the process is not easy, and it isn’t supposed to be. If the civilians and officials impacted, for example, by this project in Jay, cannot handle an honest discourse before the fact, then how will they handle the inevitable challenges — and the inevitable disagreements — that life will bring after the project becomes a reality? The idea that anything is easy, or would be were it not for X or Y, is merely a talking point that has no basis in actuality.

        • Lee Nellis says:

          You are right. We are supposed to be challenged. As Wendell Berry says about stewardship (at least his vision of it), “Its hardship is its possibility.”

          And that is why I do not agree with you about the APA and DEC. While I will pass on the hemlock tea, I think they have a continuing obligation – as do all custodians of the public interest – to explain what they are doing, why, and how in plain language.

          And that’s not hard if what they are doing is implementing the plan (actually plans in this case) as well as they can. Which leads back to comments I have made before in this forum. The plan/s, which were skeletal to begin with (David Gibson has disagreed with that, but his point is not really about the plans themselves, but rather about the spirit in which they were taken at the beginning) have not evolved, as they should, through a continuous process of, guess what, civic engagement.

          • JB says:

            In the same spirit, I’ll update my comment: a small number of APA and DEC staff (in some cases, maybe only one or two) should not be *the only ones* effectively responding to methodological (or institutional) critiques. Hence things do not evolve, and ambiguities are perpetuated. Instead of meaningful, challenging debate, we merely keep coming back to the same old words: “mile”, “units”, “jobs”. Though, I’ll always admit to the possibility that I am not seeing the larger arc of progress.

    • Todd Eastman says:

      Alex, could you recount how the APA shut down the mill in Ausable Forks?

      Thanks!

  11. Alex Desjardins says:

    JB, Lee, Mr. Gibson: you all are talking pretty high- fallutin’ for most folks to follow realistically.
    Are you guys trained environmental theorists and are you getting paid or what? What you’re spouting off can easily be seen as just so much fluff. As I said, it is not a developer’s legal responsibility to build low-income housing. Are you guys trying to slip equity in here as though it’s a given?

    But let’s get back to what made me start responding in the first place: I — and I think most readers of our discussion — REALLY want to know how, as Mr. Gibson claims, a development such as Sussman’s can foster mental illness!??

    • Lee Nellis says:

      Alex, I am disappointed. Switching the focus to the messenger/s when you don’t like the message is a worn out and transparent reaction. Having lived and worked in rural America for decades, I am immune to the disrespect it shows, but I feel compelled to point out that this all too common reaction is one of the lesser reasons rural communities struggle. Who I am and whether I am getting paid (I’m not) is irrelevant. What’s relevant is the quality of what I have to say, how well it fits the facts, and how well it plays out when anyone listens.

      As for the facts, there are plenty of places where developers are required to contribute in some measure to the provision of affordable housing. There is a lot of debate about whether such mandates are effective, but they exist. There are many more (and this number is growing rapidly) where developers are given substantial incentives to do so. If we had the type of leadership this landscape deserves, the Adirondacks would already be on that list.

      As for the link of this kind of development with mental health, I leave it to David to marshal his facts (I am interested to see what he says if he does) and make his argument, but I ask you this. Based on your own experience: Does a small community’s decline have mental health impacts? I read your initial comment as implying that it has in your town, and how could it not? And so, how could the gentrification that is propelled by developments like the proposed project, not also impact peoples’ perceptions of themselves and their town? I have spent enough time in the locals’ bars (I normally do not go to high-falutin places) in enough communities that are going through these changes to hear it for myself. Over and over again. For decades.

      I am not going to apologize for the intellectual fencing that JB and I enjoy in these forums (where else would I get compared to Socrates?). But it sounds to me as if you care about your community. Hopefully that will motivate you to set aside what you think you know. .

    • JB says:

      Though I appreciate Lee’s perspective here, as always, and I largely agree, I maybe take a slightly different view than him here. Alex, while you could certainly elaborate more to better explain your position, I think that you are taking steps in the right direction: you are being honest (at least more honest) about your thoughts, feelings and motivations. And I genuinely appreciate that.

      First, not being upfront about our motivations when advocating for our arguments can make us hypocrites (or worse), especially when, as in your case, our arguments are about the motivations and hypocrisies of others. As you point out, not being transparent about our benefactors in the case that we are paid advocates can also pose problems in similar contexts. This becomes problematic particularly in politics, where too often arguments that revolve around disparaging the character of others.

      However, this is not what is happening here with Lee or David — assuming that they are getting paid by someone, in some capacity, for their expertise, and ignoring for the moment the fact that they are almost certainly not getting paid for deciding to sit down and correspond with you on this forum. Instead, arguments here, save for yours, are about land-use, environment and community — not character. Employment, or even “training”, should have no bearing on the merits of the ideas being expressed.

      Second, I can see how these types of conversation could be perceived as “fluff”. Though I can’t speak for Mr. Gibson and Adirondack Wild, I believe that addressing this concern of yours is a primary mission for them. And, having worked my way through some of the report that is being discussed here, I believe that this is a central purpose there as well. While it may not be an all-encompassing “citizens’ guide to the theory of the APA Act”, it contributes towards filling that, in my opinion, necessary role. And, I’d like to stress how thankful I am to David for writing these articles and Adirondack Wild for making these types of resources available to us.

      (As a side note, if it is any consolation: I’m certainly not a paid expert in environmental theory; I lack even a high school diploma.)

      Third, I agree in principle (perhaps diverging the most considerably from Lee on this point) that it should not be a developer’s responsibility to develop low-income housing or to ensure “equity”. Actually, I’ll go one step further: I don’t think that it should be the responsibility of broader society at all to ensure “equity” — at least as the term is popularly conceptualized today, as the equal distribution of resources. In fact, equal distribution of resources, I would argue, is incompatible with sustainable land-use and conservation design principles; and, from there, it is a hop, skip and a jump to the type of rampant abuses that characterize neoliberalism and the erosion of civic responsibility. (Note well, however, that I am not saying that there are not other ways of conceptualizing equity that are sustainable.)

      In terms of your concern as to whether some consideration for affordability is a “given” in the APA process: if what you mean is that concerns about affordable housing are not within the APA’s purview, I would disagree. Someone may be able to correct me here, but I believe that it is very much in the spirit of the APA Act — even being spelled out quite clearly as a requirement — to consider concerns about housing and community issues, particularly with regard to large-scale subdivisions, in the Adirondack Park.

      And fourth, to your question about how subdivisions can harm “mental health”.

      To begin with, I’ll note that it is interesting that you feel that this is what “most readers of our discussion” would “REALLY want to know” about. I am not seeking to quickly dismiss the totality of your skepticism, but we do need to at least examine the context here if we are going to discuss this any further. Neither Mr. Gibson’s article, nor Dr. Klemens’ report, mentions the term “mental health” at any time. What is stated in Dr. Klemens’ report — and only once in a document that is nearly 11,000 words long — is that habitat fragmentation can compromise “human health, both physical and emotional”.

      And this is where I had wished that you would elaborate your position, because we are forced to make assumptions.

      One the one hand, it appears that your concern could be that the assertion here about “emotional health” is made without evidence, or facts. If you are wondering whether Dr. Klemens cites publications in support of his statement, I believe that the answer is in the negative (although the bibliography of his report is an excellent resource in its own right). However, it is not uncommon for conclusions like these to indeed be drawn in publications where supporting data *is* provided, especially in the fields of urban planning and tourism research.

      The real problem, in my view, is that such an approach will never be able to resolve challenges that appeal to facts. Even the most reputable epidemiological data about “mental health” is largely based upon records or self-reporting that are both, inevitably, equally problematic. “Mental health” — and even the term “health” alone — describes, by its very nature, a subjective concept, and one that predictably is commonly abused to advance all sorts of nefarious motives.

      So, setting this aside and moving on, I go back to the issue of your fixation upon this term, “mental health” (or, in Dr. Klemens’ actual words “emotional health”). Like Lee, I wonder, if you are implying that a large-scale subdivision — one that clearly, even to your own acknowledgment, will have some presumably major impact upon the community — will not affect the emotional state of residents. Again, being forced to make a common-sense assumption, I must conclude that you do not genuinely believe this. Very few would actually make a serious argument that changes in our environment do no affect our emotional state, and even our well-being.

      Hence, I think what you are considering instead is a question of magnitude. Perhaps you are saying that it is misplaced to concern ourselves with the emotional impacts of various aspects of life. After all, getting “emotional” about things, especially things like this, is unrealistic, weak, or even disingenuous (to use your term, “highfalutin”), right?

      Well, for any given person, the answer to that question would depend on *their* emotional state. For example, is not your concern, if genuine, with such a specific and small aspect of this article (not ignoring your use of exclamatory punctuation), indicative of the very type of emotional response to particularities that residents of the Town of Jay may experience in response to a 120-unit subdivision?

      I am not criticizing you, Alex, for having an strong feelings about this issue. (That would make *me* a hypocrite!) Instead, I’ll offer this: respect. If we cannot respect our environment, then we cannot respect each other, and vice versa. And, absent that, what do we have? As Lee points out (in true Socratic fashion), all that we have left then are our own preconceived ideas. What good does that do us in the real world?

  12. Lee Nellis says:

    I hope Alex (and others) benefit from the effort JB makes here. I appreciate it.

    I do want to say that equity is not among my motivations when I say (and in other contexts, act to ensure) that developers have a responsibility to address their impacts on housing (just as on water quality, traffic, etc.). .

    The first thing I think about is responsibility. We all have an obligation to address the consequences of our actions. But capitalism often offers the opportunity to reap the profits of an enterprise while passing its costs off to others (if you don’t externalize costs, there might not be any profits). There are both “efficiency” and moral reasons why we have to correct that.

    The second thing I think about is opportunity and choice (I guess that’s two things if you want to be picky, but they’re bundled into the same thought for me). In a just society a person who works hard as, say, a school teacher would be able not just to find decent shelter, but to have some choice in the matter. Does the local (or for that matter, national) housing market offer that? Having participated in the Adirondack housing market, and having watched others, I think the answer ranges somewhere between “only with great difficulty” and just flat “no.”

    Finally, I think about the structure of a good society. You are not required to share my definition of good, of course, but I do not think that the increasingly sorted nature of our society is either sustainable or just. I think the privileged who could afford to live in the proposed project would benefit (and vice versa) from having a neighbor who is a teacher or a welder. We need to foster upward mobility. We need to foster a sense of shared community rather than alienation and polarization. And we apparently can’t do that without intervening in the ways people are now able to sort themselves out.

    There may or may not be a type of equity implied in all this, but its not where I start. .

    • JB says:

      Lee, I think that you bring up some important points about community and responsibility.

      You are right that we have an economic system in which costs are externalized for investors, and this is a problem in its own right. It may seem that the obvious remedy for that would be to impose some sort of Pigovian tax — thus holding people to some standard for inherent responsibility. After all, this has arguably made circumstances at least a small measure better in places.

      However, in keeping with your points, I’m not convinced that this is the full picture. We have a system that goes a step further: it’s not really that costs are easy to externalize, it’s that normal mechanisms for preventing these costs from being incurred in the first place (i.e., by communities, by everyone) are artificially suspended. This is, at least as I understand it, the definition of neoliberalism.

      When Alex poses the question of what local residents or governments think here — as opposed to the opinions of those on the “sidelines” — I’m inclined to ask: Would it matter? If a community is genuinely opposed to a project, how often does this change the outcome? How often does a community really, truly have a “choice”? And how often is a “community” truly a community? Isn’t everybody now on the “sidelines”?

      Though some of my assumptions here may be refutable, I believe that these types of questions do loom large in our part of the world, not least of all here in the Adirondacks. In fact, the APA Act speaks explicitly to the inability of communities to “cope with the unrelenting pressures for development being brought to bear on the area, and to exercise their discretionary powers to create an effective land use and development control framework.” Fifty years later, that is an amazingly accurate statement.

      But nothing here is to say that there are not examples of perfectly viable alternatives to an Adirondack Park Agency. I think about communities in places like rural China — land use regimes that have sustained themselves for thousands of years, without burdensome formalities like APA permits. But then, I imagine how anyone accustomed to our American society would react to such a system, whether they be, to use extreme stereotypes, conservative Adirondack locals or big-city progressives. Under such land-use regimes, we get things like: Customary rights passed down along blood lines. No possibilities for outside investment. No open-access recreation. No new jobs. No social mobility. …But plenty of forest, and plenty of, arguably healthy, community.

      And this is where I have the qualm about terms like “equity”, “accountability”, or “opportunity”. No matter how valid these ideas might be, we have developed a bad habit of turning them into symbols. What should be a civic exercise in practical decision making often gets reduced to various narratives, for example: the narrative of the benevolent developer versus the big, bad government, or that of the little guy versus the detached aristocracy.

      Of course, all narratives are one-sided. (Where is the toad versus the bulldozer in all of this?) But also, narratives remind us of everything that divides us, while distracting us from the circumstances that we all share — and the causes of the circumstances.

      I would argue that this does not bode well for anyone. And I worry that it does not bode well for the type of land-use planning that we have grown to take for granted. I may not know what it would be like to live in the shadow of a 120-lot luxury development, but I do know what it is like to live with a subdivision that has went through the conservation design process next door. And most of us in the Adirondacks do too — whether we know it or not.

      • Lee Nellis says:

        I think we are past Alex’s questions and a particular subdivision in Jay, so I am stopping after this on this thread.

        I hope everyone recognizes JB’s good definition of neoliberalism, going beyond questioning government to intentionally disabling it.

        Communities can and do win, sometimes case-by-case when there is enough passion and some practical politicking, and occasionally by being both flexible enough and stern enough (a very hard line to walk, a very hard act to sustain) to break developers to the reins. The APA is not, I think we will agree, walking that line. One wonders if the agency even understands that there can be such a line. But that is a topic for another time, as is the definition of community.

        I think a lot about narratives, JB, and am fascinated by your conclusion that they tend to be reductionist and divisive. My off and on project is to find one that unites, one that transcends, one that is capable of becoming a guiding myth. Futile?

        But it is clear from this discussion that the guiding myth we have now is failing us. So why not imagine what could be?

        • JB says:

          To quickly answer your question: I certainly don’t think that searching for a new narrative is futile.

          Broadly, “narratives” themselves are not the problem. Nor are the symbols contained in those narratives. For example, the Cooperstown wolf has generated quite the stir on this forum, between two competing narratives: that of the wolf as the hero and the other as the villain. And yet, the actualities revolving around, for example, the broader processes of habitat fragmentation — discussed here and generating comparatively little interest — are arguably far more consequential, even to the wolves themselves, than the plight of a single wolf (or a single hunter).

          But, importantly, none of this is to say that the wolf (or “equity”, or “opportunity”) is not an essential part — an inevitable part, even — of the ecosystem, a necessary part of the “solution”. And we, as humans, need collective narratives. This is inescapable. The problem is that there needs to be a major — almost unimaginable — paradigm shift in the way that those narratives are structured, how they are crafted. And the dilemma is, in order for that to happen, the way that we live must change too. Thus, it becomes a question, for now, of where to focus.

  13. Alex Desjardins says:

    OK I was glad to help further the discussion. Still hoping to hear more opinions and positions from both local residents and their local government — not just from the sidelines. Anybody?

  14. Mike says:

    I guess the Jay Developer figures after the ACR debacle why bother going through the required process the APA supposedly enforces. Just keep coming back with incomplete info and claim economic benefits for everyone and the APA will cave and give him the permit.

  15. JohnL says:

    Looks like the comments on the dead wolf were pulled from the Almanac. THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU MELISSA. Let the poor dead wolf rest in peace.

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