Posts Tagged ‘real estate’

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Keene Property Values Slide with Land

For more than a month, millions of tons of earth and millions of dollars in property value have been inching down a Keene Valley mountainside. As 82 acres of trees and homes continue to break loose, a state geologist says other Adirondack slopes could fail.

The slow-moving landslide on the side of Little Porter Mountain is unnerving residents in the town of Keene, which includes the hamlets of Keene and Keene Valley. The year-round population of 1,000 is nearly doubled in summer by wealthy seasonal residents, many who live upslope for the lofty views of the High Peaks.

Four half-million-dollar houses at the top of the slide have been affected—pried wholly from their foundations or partially destabilized—and at least one vacation home appears to be in its path below. The value of the land in motion is expected to be reduced from about $3 million to zero, while sales of similar properties are thrown into limbo. Supervisor Bill Ferebee said the town has begun to seek emergency state reimbursement to help make up anticipated losses in property tax.

Andrew Kozlowski, associate state geologist with the New York State Museum, says the slide is the largest in state history. It’s nothing like the quick tumble of trees and thin humus familiar on high Adirondack terrain. This one started as a subtle shift below 2,000 feet on a 25–35 degree slope. It was triggered by the melting of deep snowpack compounded by more than a foot of rain in April and May. The slide does not seem to pose a risk to human life, but it is reactivated when new rains slip into soil cracks that are growing wider every day. Because it’s logistically difficult to drill borings in shifting soils to measure their depth, Kozlowski can’t estimate when the mass will stop moving; he says it could be months or years.

A dirt road runs parallel to the top of the landslide. Keene residents are questioning whether mountainside building is responsible for altering drainage patterns. “Does the development help? Probably not. Was it the actual cause? Probably not,” Kozlowski said.

There were pre-existing conditions, he explained. He detected on the site signs of a landslide hundreds or thousands of years ago. At the end of the last ice age, Keene Valley was submerged by a glacial lake, and deep sand on the hillsides is evidence of 12,000-year-old beaches.

LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) imagery collected by aerial survey can provide high-resolution digital images and help identify shifty soils, he said. Eight New York counties have collected LiDAR data but none in northern New York, which has the state’s steepest topography. Keene Supervisor Ferebee said aerial images could be useful to all towns in Essex County, and he is exploring how the county might cover the $150,000 cost.

Residents are also concerned about the future of homes on other Keene mountainsides. “There is danger of this happening elsewhere,” Kozlowski told a group of two dozen citizens who gathered at the community’s K–12 school earlier this month. “Will it happen on this scale? We don’t know.”

Real Estate and Rain

Annual rainfall in the Lake Champlain watershed is three inches greater on average than it was during the mid 20th century, when the first houses were built on the side of Little Porter Mountain, according to United States Historical Climatology Network data. A range of climate models predict the Champlain Basin could receive 4 to 6 inches more precipitation a year by the end of this century, with heavy storms becoming more frequent, according to a 2010 report by The Nature Conservancy’s Adirondack and Vermont chapters.

The Little Porter slide has suddenly become an unforeseen example of something other Adirondack mountain communities must consider in a potentially wetter future.

“Throughout the Adirondacks there is going to be a lot more concern about this now,” said Martha Lee Owen, who owns vacant land on the failed slope. She is a real-estate broker whose father, Adrian Edmonds, lived at the base of Little Porter and pioneered homebuilding on Keene’s mountainsides. “He’d be just heartbroken,” she said. “It’s just terrible that it’s affected so many homeowners.”

Owen said it never occurred to her to recommend that potential buyers hire a geologist to evaluate slope stability, but she will recommend it now. She would also like to see LiDAR data collected for Essex County. “Of course it’s a huge concern to me in terms of selling properties, not just my own but selling any properties,” she said. “So far buyers aren’t asking a lot of questions, although everyone is just sort of shocked by this. You have to get used to it before you take it all in.”

Jane Bickford, a Saranac Lake resident who has a summer home beneath and — she hopes — outside the projected path of the slide, said the mountain-climbing mecca of Keene Valley is more than an investment to people who own property there. “The piece that’s important is, Can we keep living there?” she said. “The financials are pretty terrible but Keene Valley represents to people a touchstone. It’s where my kids grew up and where they are bringing their own kids up. This is where children’s values are developed. To the people who go to Keene Valley it’s not just a house. It’s a place where families get together and where bonding happens.”

Photograph courtesy of Curt Stager.

Link to video of the landslide site.


Friday, April 22, 2011

Phil Brown: Is Tupper Lake Resort Realistic?

Tupper Lake is hurting. Logging no longer employs as many people as it once did. The Oval Wood Dish factory closed years ago. Young people leave because they can’t find work. Over the past decade, the community lost 7 percent of its population.

Enter the developers behind the proposed Adirondack Club and Resort. They want to build a year-round resort with 650 residential units in the vicinity of the Big Tupper Ski Area. They also plan to refurbish and reopen the beloved ski area. » Continue Reading.


Monday, April 18, 2011

Commentary: Oversight Needed for Conservation Easements

Conservation easements are real property arrangements designed for the insider. Specialists predominate before and after an easement is consummated in private, including the negotiators to the terms of the easement (the seller, donor, buyer, or grantor and grantee and their lawyers), the appraiser of the easement’s value, and an ecological specialist who conducts baseline surveys of the land in question. There is rarely, if ever, a public meeting to discuss the details of the easement. The public may learn about easements through after the fact press releases, but their specific provisions and public benefits may be unclear for years. » Continue Reading.


Friday, June 4, 2010

Warren County Landmark Sold; Demolition Possible

“After Years of Neglect, Bolton Landing Landmark to be Sold.” That’s the headline of a lead story in this week’s issue of the Lake George Mirror, which was written after the 1820s house was sold at an auction held on the steps of the Warren County courthouse last week. We also published an editorial, “Save the John Tanner House.” Since the issue appeared on local news stands earlier this week, it’s become common knowledge that whoever buys the house will probably demolish it. But a committee to save the building headed by Bolton Town Historian Ted Caldwell has already been formed. Below is the story that appeared in the Mirror.

The 19th century Federal home on Bolton Landing’s Main Street that has slowly deteriorated and appears to be all but abandoned will finally be sold.

Following a court-ordered auction, held on May 26 at the Warren County Municipal Center, ownership of the property passed from Northwest Bay Partners to Glenn C. Waehner of Fresno, California.

“It was never Mr. Waehner’s intention to hold the property; his goal is to sell it to someone who will either restore or re-develop the property,” said Justin Heller, an Albany attorney representing Waehner.

McDonald Real Estate Professionals has been retained by Waehner to list the property for $975,000, said Frank McDonald.

“We hope it will become a small, upscale year-round inn,” said McDonald. “That will fill a void at that end of town and in the community itself, which has many types of accommodations but nothing like that.”

The property’s previous owner, Northwest Bay Partners, owes Waehner $1.4 million, said Heller.

Waehner won the property with a bid of $625,000; that amount will be deducted from the $1.4 million owed to him by Northwest Bay Partners’ principal, Michael C. O’Brien Jr. said Heller.

“Mr. Waehner believes the property is worth substantially more than $625,000,” said Heller. No one else placed a bid, although at least three prospective buyers attended the auction.

Northwest Bay Partners purchased the house in 1995 for $650,000, according to Bolton developer Rolf Ronning, who owned the house at the time.

Ronning himself purchased the house in 1982 for $125,000, he said.

Until 1959, the house was part of a farm known as Ryefield that extended eastward to Potter Hill Road and included the whole of Dula Pond.

In 1959, the Myers family sold the property to Canoe Island Lodge owner Bill Busch and Lamb Brothers Marina partner Norm Lamb, who turned the house into a restaurant which they called Evergreen Acres.

The property was later logged, sold and subdivided; carved from the former farm were developments like Mohican Heights and Heritage Village.

The house was built in the 1820s by John Tanner, a native of Hopkinton, Rhode Island who acquired more than 2,200 acres in Bolton, including Green Island.

Converted to Mormonism in 1832, he was baptized in Lake George across the street from his house and moved to Kirtland, Ohio with ten other Bolton families.

According to Pat Babé, the director of the Bolton Historical Society, people visit the museum every summer seeking information about John Tanner and his house.

“They all get so excited when I take them out to the front steps and point across the street to what we call Evergreen Acres and say that that is the original Tanner House,” said Babe.

Babe said the visitors are invariably Mormons researching their genealogy. More than 15,000 people trace their lineage to Tanner.


For more news from Lake George, subscribe to the Lake George Mirror


Friday, March 5, 2010

A Mountain of Dreams:Developer Seeks Redemption in Proposed Ski Area

Every small town has its stars. Rolf Ronning was one of Bolton’s. The only child of a wealthy, well-educated couple, he graduated from St. Lawrence University in 1966 and earned two Masters, a doctorate and a law degree before returning to his hometown in 1977.

A little more than a decade later, he was in prison, convicted of possessing and conspiring to sell cocaine.

“I embarrassed myself and my children with those drug charges,” says Ronning. “My wife and I have tried to make it up to them. My daughter is at St. Lawrence and wants to go to law school. My son wants to get his PhD and teach. I want to succeed for them. I can’t give up.”

Released from prison in 1992, Ronning returned to Bolton Landing. Stripped of his license to practice law, he turned to real estate development, in which he made millions of dollars.

Now he’s lost most of those millions. Foreclosure proceedings have been brought against five of his properties, including his lakefront home.

The state of Ronning’s financial affairs is threatening to overwhelm his latest project, one that he hopes will redeem his fortune and his reputation: a ski area on one hundred acres near Exit 24 of the Adirondack Northway.

“I wish I could appear before the Town Board and the various agencies as a financially secure individual, but the rumors that I am in financial difficulty are true,” said Ronning.

Ronning concedes that title to the property, once envisioned as a residential subdivision to be called Westwood Forest, could end up in court.

“There’s litigation regarding the validity and enforceability of the mortgages,” said Ronning, guardedly and obscurely.

Some of those mortgages, he added, are held by companies controlled by “a person who loans money at high interest rates but whose name never appears on documents.”

At a Bolton public hearing on a proposal to permit ski centers in two areas currently zoned for rural and residential uses, a letter was read aloud by Supervisor Ron Conover from someone whom Ronning believes is affiliated with one of those companies.

“Rolf Ronning is not capable of handling a ski resort as he hasn’t the proper funds. He owes the investors involved in Westwood Forest over one million dollars. He is broke. It will be just a matter of time before Ronning loses all his properties,” wrote Gloria Dingee.

Ronning said he was surprised that Conover read the letter aloud, since it had no bearing on the issue before the Town Board, which at that point was nothing more than a change in zoning rules.

As Conover himself says, “the zoning change is not being undertaken on behalf of any particular project; we’re doing it to increase opportunities for appropriate development within the Town.” Nevertheless, Ronning would be its first beneficiary.

“We’ve all felt the effects of the Sagamore closing for the winter, and a ski center might bring visitors back to Bolton in winter and be good for the residents as well,” said Ronning.

According to Ronning, the ski area would consist of a 1,570 foot long double chairlift, a T-bar and a lodge.

“We’re contemplating night skiing and summer activities that would complement the nearby Adirondack Extreme Adventure Course,” said Ronning.

Snow could be made by drawing water from a nearby brook, an idea that Department of Environmental Conservation officials in Warrensburg found reasonable, according to Ronning.

As many as fifty people would be employed every winter, said Ronning.

“This is still in the conceptual stages,” said Ron Mogren of Saratoga Associates, who drafted preliminary plans for the ski area, tentatively named “Thrill Hill.”

But if he can secure at least some of the necessary permits, the investors will come, Ronning says.

Bolton’s Town Board deferred its decision on whether to approve the zoning changes for another month, but Ronning said he remained optimistic.

“I’d be unrealistic if I wasn’t concerned about how people’s views of me might affect this, but I hope that the Town Board, the Planning Board and the others will judge the project on its merits, not on what they might think of me,” he said.

After the meeting, Ronning sought out Lake George Waterkeeper Chris Navitsky to show him the plans for the ski area.

The Waterkeeper has brought several lawsuits against subdivisions planned by Ronning, and at times Ronning has publicly accused the Waterkeeper of deliberately attempting to bankrupt him.

But on the surface, the two are cordial toward one another, as is often the case in small towns, even with the most antagonistic relationships.

Navitsky, however, was non-committal.

“It looks interesting, Rolf,” was the extent of his comments.

“I’m trying to do the right thing,” said Ronning. “Every day I wake up and promise myself I’ll do my best. Day by day, that’s how I keep going.”

Editors Note: The Lake George Mirror rents office space from Bell Point Realty, which is owned by Rolf Ronning.

For more news from Lake George, subscribe to the Lake George Mirror


Thursday, January 21, 2010

State Funded Schroon Lake Hotel Plans Revealed

Plans are afoot for a large hotel on the shores of Schroon Lake in Essex County, according to the project’s manager Joel J. Friedman of Friedman Realty in Schroon Lake. “Over the next few months we will be refining the project,” Friedman told the Almanack via e-mail, “a final version of the exterior and landscape plan is a month or two away.” The hotel, which is to be located on Route 9 a half-mile south of Schroon Lake Village, is expected to include approximately 81 rooms and suites, meeting rooms, an indoor pool and fitness center. The project’s developers hope to begin construction this spring or summer but, Friedman said, “In this economy that may or may not happen; we will know more in one to two months.”

The entity that hopes to build the hotel, Schroon Revitalization Group, LLC- Schroon Lake Hospitality, was awarded $975,000 in October 2009 from the Upstate Regional Blueprint Fund designed to revitalize New York’s Upstate economy. The $120 million Fund, announced by Governor David Paterson in May 2009, “supports projects that help provide a framework for future growth in regions with stymied development,” according to a press release from the Governor’s office. “This first round of funding finances business investment, infrastructure upgrades and downtown redevelopment.”

Over the past several decades, in part due to the construction of the Adirondack Northway (I-87) which diverted north-south traffic from Route 9, Schroon Lake has lost most of it’s tourist accommodations. Friedman however, cites “the dramatic increase in the value of waterfront and real estate properties,” as the root cause, “further exacerbated by a lack of investment into the existing motel stock by some folks over the past few decades.”

“In a small community like Schroon Lake,” Friedman told the Almanack, “it is the churn of tourist dollars that is the key to keeping these [main street Schroon Lake Village] businesses successful.” “It is projected that this hotel will provide almost 20,000 tourist nights,” he added, “that alone will have a significant impact to Schroon’s and our neighboring communities’ economies.”

A number of studies since the 1970s have argued for the need for improved lodging facilities in Schroon Lake including the Town of Schroon’s 1977 Comprehensive Plan (produced by Environmental Consulting Groups, Inc.) and an Adirondack Park Agency (APA) study prepared for the town that same year. The APA study concluded that the town should “Make provisions for the continued growth of commercial recreation by such means as taking steps to extend the recreational season by providing other activities and encouraging a major chain to locate a motel in Schroon.”

Local critics of the plan have noted that Schroon Revitalization Group, LLC- Schroon Lake Hospitality is not listed in the NYS Division of Corporations index of corporations and business entities. This is not uncommon for new projects according to Friedman who said that the LLC’s name was filed in December and it’s Articles of Incorporation were filed early this year. The principles of the corporation are David & Jane Kaufman and Roger & Joel Friedman.

Photo: Proposed Schroon Lake Hotel, photo provided by developers.


Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Builders and Realtors: Learn About Home Energy Efficiency

Many Adirondack homes have been languishing on the market, For Sale signs weathering on the lawn. Yes, a lot of real estate is overpriced and a lot of people are nervous about buying, but maybe some of these places would be snapped up if they weren’t under-insulated oil-sucking money pits.

If you’re thinking of selling, or are in the business of selling homes, or are just interested in learning more about how you can reduce fossil-fuel use in your own household, there’s a daylong program in Saranac Lake Thursday, September 24 you might want to sign up for.

Local can-do person Gloria Volz has arranged to bring the Green Build Science (GBS) training program to the Adirondacks. The course is designed mostly for Realtors and building trades professionals, including contractors, interior designers and home stagers. However anyone, including home and business owners, are welcome to learn more about sustainable building practices, energy efficiency and energy-saving tax credits.

An greenhouse gas inventory of the Adirondack Park commissioned last year found that out of 45,965 year-round homes here, 18,000 are “badly in need of insulation.” About 60% of the energy in every home is wasted through inefficiencies, according to Community Energy Services (CES), based in Canton. A few nationwide numbers: the USA Green Build Council says 92% of people surveyed said green features are important when buying property, and 40% of new homes are being built with green features. That last percentage is depressingly low, actually.

The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) offers a Chinese menu of cash incentives for all kinds of ways to improve home efficiency, from insulating to replacing appliances, to tapping in to clean sources of energy like sun, wind and geothermal, or carbon-neutral local sources like wood and pellets. Sometimes it’s daunting to figure out how to take advantage of these programs, so the September 24 seminar might help with that. If you’d like to start right away, CES is set up to help Adirondack homeowners navigate their way to better home finances and Earth stewardship.

For more information or to register for the course, visit greenbuildscience.net or Volz’s site.