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 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.