Posted on January 20th, 2012 8 comments Add a comment >>
The Adirondack Park Agency voted 10-1 today to approve the controversial Adirondack Club and Resort, the largest development ever to come before the agency.
Several commissioners said they had concerns about the project—including what they described as the developers’ optimistic sales projections—but they concluded that it fell within the APA’s regulations.
The commissioners agreed with the agency’s staff that the resort would not cause an “undue adverse environmental impact” and expressed hope that it would boost the fortunes of Tupper Lake.
“This brings the opportunity of economic development to Tupper Lake, something that’s badly needed,” said Commissioner William Thomas.
Tupper Lake residents in the audience applauded when the decision was announced, and several thanked the board afterward.
Preserve Associates plans to build a 719-unit resort on 6,200 acres of forestland near the Big Tupper Ski Area. The development will include so-called Great Camps, single-family homes, town houses, a sixty-room hotel, a restaurant, shops, a health spa, and a marina. Preserve Associates also intends to expand and renovate the ski area.
Michael Foxman, one of the principal developers, began his quest for an APA permit eight years ago. At the time, he said, he was told the process would take eight months. Had he known it would take as long as it did, he added, he probably would not have pursued the project.
Foxman still needs to obtain permits from the state Department of Environmental Conservation and Department of Health and work out a financing deal with the Franklin County Industrial Development Agency.
After the APA vote, Foxman said he hopes to break ground in 2013. Preserve Associates plans to begin the development by selling Great Camp lots east of Lake Simond and work their way west toward the ski area. Asked if he has any buyers lined up, Foxman replied, “We have people we have been talking to for five years. Some are still interested, some might not be.”
Richard Booth was the only commissioner to vote against the permit. He called the developers’ sales projections—and thus the benefits to the community—unrealistic. He also faulted Preserve Associates for failing to undertake a comprehensive survey of wildlife on the property. Finally, he contended that the development is not compatible with the agency’s guidelines for Resource Management lands.
Most of the development will occur on lands classified as Resource Management, the strictest of the APA’s zoning categories. The agency’s Land Use and Development Plan defines Resource Management as open-space lands whose “primary uses” include forestry, agriculture, and hunting. However, the plan allows the construction of single-family homes “on substantial acreages or in small clusters.” The APA has never defined “substantial acreages” or “small clusters,” but Booth asserted that the design of the Adirondack Club and Resort, spread over thousands of acres, disturbs Resource Management lands “in a way that I think is not necessary and not acceptable.”
Environmental organizations such as the Adirondack Council and Adirondack Wild pressed Preserve Associates to come up with an alternative design to cluster the development more. Many of the complaints were aimed at the Great Camps, most of which will be built on lots ranging from twenty to a hundred acres. Because the thirty-nine Great Camps will be scattered throughout the tract, critics argue that they will fragment the forest and disturb wildlife habitat.
Preserve Associates stuck to its design, with several modifications, but it did agree to prohibit any further subdivision of the Great Camp lots. In the end, the changes were enough to win the support of the Adirondack Council.
“We didn’t get everything we wanted, but we got enough,” said Brian Houseal, the council’s executive director.
Houseal said the council wanted Preserve Associates to refrain from developing the lands east of Lake Simond, which border the 14,600-acre Follensby Park. The Follensby tract is owned by the Nature Conservancy, which plans to sell it to the state sometime in the next several years.
Adirondack Wild, however, remained fiercely opposed to the project. David Gibson, one of the group’s founders, called the APA vote “the most significantly bad decision they’ve ever made in the [twenty-plus] years I’ve observed this agency.”
Gibson said much of the development should have been moved from Resource Management to lands classified Moderate Intensity Use, a less-stringent zoning category. “There were so many other [design] alternatives with 6,200 acres to get it right,” he said.
Gibson said he did not know if Adirondack Wild would challenge the decision in court.
Another environmental group, Protect the Adirondacks, also opposed the project as designed.
Posted on December 1st, 2011 3 comments Add a comment >>
The Adirondack Council wants the state to purchase or otherwise protect a 2,257-acre parcel near Poke-o-Moonshine Mountain that is on the market for $2,275,000.
Dubbed Burnt Pond Forest, the tract lies just southwest of Poke-o-Moonshine, bordering state Forest Preserve. It is being marketed by LandVest, a real-estate company that deals in timberlands the Northeast.
In an online brochure, LandVest says the property contains six peaks, several trout streams, an eighteen-acre pond, and a trail system. The brochure touts the property’s timber value but also suggests that the pond would be suitable “for the development of a recreational cabin or second home.”
Adirondack Council spokesman John Sheehan said the environmental group would like the state to either purchase the property outright or buy an easement that would forbid development. “We would like to see it protected as forestland with public recreation,” he told the Explorer.
The council first called for the protection of this land in 1990, in one of its “2020 Vision” reports, subtitled “Realizing the Recreational Potential of Adirondack Wild Forests.” Written by the guidebook author Barbara McMartin, the report recommended a variety of land acquisitions to expand the Preserve’s Wild Forest Areas. (A companion report focused on Wilderness Areas.)
McMartin, who died in 2005, recommended that the state purchase 3,660 acres north and west of Poke-o-Moonshine Mountain, a popular hiking and rock-climbing venue. She said Poke-o, which the state owns, “is just one of a cluster of mountains with exposed rock ledges, the nucleus of what could be a splendid hiking and climbing area.”
The Commission on the Adirondacks in the Twenty-First Century also recommended in 1990 that the state acquire land around Poke-o. The commission was headed by George Davis, who also oversaw the publication of the council’s 2020 Vision reports.
Burnt Pond Forest overlaps the tract eyed by McMartin and the commission. A comparison of maps suggests that more than half of Burnt Pond Forest’s acreage was targeted for the Forest Preserve.
Champlain Area Trails (CATS) also wants the state to purchase or protect the land on the market. Chris Maron, the group’s executive director, said the property is ideal for hiking and cross-country skiing. He noted that it would provide an alternative hiking route to the fire tower on Poke-o-Moonshine’s summit.
Dave Spiers, a LandVest broker, said the investment group that owns the property would be willing to sell tract to the state. “They’d be open to anybody who wants to make an offer,” he said.
It appears, though, that Burnt Pond Forest is not on the radar screen of the state Department of Environmental Conservation. Asked if DEC would have any interest in purchasing the property, spokesman David Winchell replied in an e-mail that the department is not familiar with it.
“The owner has not approached us about selling it to the state,” Winchell said, “nor is the parcel listed as a specific priority project in the Open Space Conservation Plan.”
Sheehan, however, noted that the state has expressed interest in protecting land in the Champlain Valley, where Poke-o sits. He said the council will urge DEC’s regional open-space committee to take steps to protect Burnt Pond Forest.
Given the state’s dismal fiscal condition, some Adirondack politicians have called for a moratorium on the acquisition of land for the Forest Preserve. Sheehan, however, said the parcel in question is small enough that the state may be able to afford it. If not, he said, an easement could be acquired for less than half of the purchase price.
Click here to read LandVest’s marketing materials and view photos of the property.
Click here to read my article on Adirondack Almanack about other timberlands marketed by LandVest.
Posted on November 17th, 2011 7 comments Add a comment >>
Resource Management is the most restrictive zoning category for private land in the Adirondack Park. In the debate over the Adirondack Club and Resort, one of the big questions is whether the proposed resort is suitable for RM lands.
Essentially, RM lands are timberlands. The Adirondack Park Agency Act says the primary (or best) uses of such lands include forestry, agriculture, and recreation. Housing developments are considered “secondary uses.”
The law says that residential development on RM lands is permissible “on substantial acreages or in small clusters on carefully selected and well designed sites.”
The developers contend that their design meets the standard, whereas their opponents say it doesn’t.
The APA board, which began reviewing the project Thursday, will have to decide who is right. That won’t be a simple task: APA regulations fail to define either “substantial acreages” or “small clusters.”
The developers, Preserve Associates, want to build 706 housing units on 6,234 acres near the Big Tupper Ski Area in the town of Tupper Lake. The development would include 206 single-family homes, 453 townhouse units (in 125 buildings), thirty-nine Great Camps, and eight artist cabins.
Much of the debate revolves around the Great Camps. Critics argue that these rustic mansions would be scattered around in such a way as to fragment the forest and diminish wildlife habitat.
Most of the Great Camps would be built on lots ranging from twenty to thirty acres. Eight of them would be built on larger lots, ranging from 111 to 1,211 acres.
Since most of the Great Camps would be on RM lands, the APA board will be applying the “substantial acreage” and “small clusters” tests.
APA attorney Sarah Reynolds told the board Thursday that the agency’s staff does not regard the smaller lots as “substantial acreages.” The staff feels that the larger lots do meet the criterion. But Dan Plumley of Adirondack Wild contends that “substantial acreages” should be applied only to tracts of at least a few thousand acres.
If any of the Great Camps are not on substantial acreages, the board will need to decide whether they meet the “small clusters” criterion.
Preserve Associates argues that the resort does employ cluster development in that most of the land will remain in open space. Green groups disagree. The Adirondack Council has proposed three alternative designs that would preserve more open space. In the council’s preferred design, all of the development would take place on 750 acres west of Read Road, leaving 80 percent of the land untouched. Likewise, Protect the Adirondacks proposes that most of the Great Camps be built on lots ranging from two to five acres—again leaving most of the land undeveloped.
And what if the Great Camps meet neither criterion?
That, too, is up for debate. Protect the Adirondacks argues that the criteria are mandatory, but the developers say they’re not. The APA staff agrees with the developers, but the board is not bound by the staff’s interpretation.
In short, the board is tasked with making a decision on a huge (and controversial) development without knowing what the criteria mean or even if the criteria must be applied.
By the way, no one knows what “forest fragmentation” means either.
Posted on November 15th, 2011 2 comments Add a comment >>
After hiking, biking, canoeing, and sailing 7,600 miles over 280 days, John Davis says the hard work has just begun.
Davis resigned as the Adirondack Council’s conservation director last year to undertake TrekEast, a muscle-powered journey designed to draw attention to the need to protect wild lands in the eastern United States and Canada.
He began his travels on February 3 in Key Largo, Florida, and finished this past Monday (November 14) on Quebec’s Gaspe Peninsula. In between, he meandered through swamps, fields, and forests, along coastlines, and over mountains. He reached New York State in the summer and traveled through the Catskills, Shawangunks, and Adirondacks.
“While I’ve seen numerous threats to wild nature over the past ten months, I’ve also seen incredible efforts under way to counter those threats,” Davis said after reaching the Atlantic Ocean at Forillon National Park in Quebec.
In an interview with the Explorer, Davis said one lesson from his journey is that the East needs to bring back cougars to restore ecological balance. Without cougars to keep them in check, he said, deer are overbrowsing the woods, consuming wildflowers and saplings. “Our forests are likely to slowly degenerate,” he said.
Davis said conservationists need to focus on four other objectives in the East:
- Protect large tracts of wild land and the wild corridors connecting them.
- Create wildlife crossings over and under roads.
- Protect waterways with wild buffers.
- Encourage private landowners to protect wild lands.
Davis said TrekEast, though arduous, was the adventure of a lifetime. “Now comes the much more important and difficult leg of the trip—maintaining and growing the network of people needed to protect a continental-sized network of connected eastern wild lands,” he said in a news release.
He next plans to go to Washington, D.C., to discuss his journey with the directors of the Wildlands Network, which sponsored TrekEast. After that, he will return to his home near Westport in the Adirondacks.
“I’d be delighted to work at the Adirondack Council again someday, but there are no openings right now,” he said.
Meantime, he is planning his next big adventure: TrekWest in the Rocky Mountains.
Posted on October 28th, 2009 3 comments Add a comment >>
On Tuesday, voters will be asked to approve the construction of a power line that’s already been built—through the forever-wild Forest Preserve in the northwestern Adirondacks.
If Ballot Proposal One is approved, the state will cede to National Grid a two-mile strip, totaling six acres, along Route 56 where the line was built last year. In exchange, National Grid will give the state a forty-three-acre parcel along the South Branch of the Grass River.
John Sheehan of the Adirondack Council says it’s a good deal for the state.
If the line were not built along the road, Sheehan said, National Grid would have had to avoid the Forest Preserve parcel by constructing the line through an ancient boreal forest and Seveys Bog, a home of the endangered spruce grouse. The line would have crossed ninety-five streams and wetlands, according to the council.
“That forest has not been disturbed, as far we can tell, since the last ice age,” Sheehan said.
The line is needed to provide a backup source of power to Tupper Lake.
“In a couple of cases they’ve had outages in the winter that lasted more than a day,” Sheehan said. “They’ve had to put people in public shelters to keep them from freezing to death.”
He concedes that building the power line in the Preserve was illegal, but for the sake of the greater good, the council and other environmental groups chose not to sue.
The state Department of Environmental Conservation also agreed not to sue if National Grid pursued the constitutional amendment allowing the land swap. The amendment, now known as Ballot Proposal One, has already been approved by two successive state legislatures—a prerequisite to getting it on the ballot.
DEC spokeswoman Maureen Wren said National Grid was under federal orders to build the line by the end of last year, so work could not be delayed under after next week’s referendum.
Sheehan has been talking up the amendment around the state and has encountered virtually no opposition. He is confident it will pass. If for some reason it doesn’t, he added, National Grid will push for another vote in 2011.
The council’s website contains an explanation of the proposal as well as its exact wording. You’ll also find links to numerous editorials in favor of the land swap.
Click the link below to read National Grid’s fact sheet on the project.