Saratoga County

Planned resort raises questions about APA rules

A debate is beginning over whether the Adirondack Park Agency’s rules need to be revised, based on l

A debate is beginning over whether the Adirondack Park Agency’s rules need to be revised, based on lessons learned during the recent seven-year review of the controversial Adirondack Club and Resort project in Tupper Lake.

The Adirondack Council on Wednesday released recommendations that the agency’s land use controls in the 6-million-acre park be reformed and strengthened.

“The current rules for development are too weak and outdated to protect the park’s pure waters, wildlife and unbroken forests,” said Brian L. Houseal, executive director of the environmental group.

Local government leaders in the Adirondack Park, many of whom have long resented the APA’s role in land-use decisions, appear to agree change is needed based on how the Adirondack Club and Resort was handled, even if they don’t want to strengthen the APA’s powers.

“It’s something we definitely think needs to be reviewed. Regardless of what you think of the outcome, it was just a totally cumbersome process,” said Chester town Supervisor Fred Monroe, executive director of the Adirondack Park Agency Local Government Review Board.

The APA, headquartered in Ray Brook, has approval power over major land development within the park, which is split nearly evenly between publicly and privately owned land. The state created the Adirondack forest preserve in 1892 and the Adirondack Park in 1971, after a failed effort to make it a national park in the 1960s. The APA was set up in 1971, as well, and most of the rules it uses haven’t been changed since then.

The talk of reform has been spurred by the APA’s review of the Adirondack Club and Resort, which was approved by the agency in January.

The controversial project — a 719-unit housing development involving 6,200 acres and the redevelopment of the Big Tupper Ski Area — was the largest and most complex the APA has ever reviewed.

“During the review, we and others advised the APA how to scale back the project to better protect water quality, save wildlife and conserve the forest that will surround the new homes. The APA’s staff and commissioners lacked the clear authority to compel the developer to carry out those changes,” Houseal said.

He said regulatory changes should include more measures to protect shorelines and ways of offering tax credits and other incentives to encourage people to build new homes in hamlets and villages. Currently, Houseal said, nine out of 10 new homes are being built outside the settled areas.

“There should be a penalty for developing in a pristine location,” said Adirondack Council spokesman John Sheehan.

Monroe said local government officials also want to see the environment protected, but don’t want to see new powers granted to the APA. He believes state laws governing the agency should be changed to allow more give-and-take between the agency and applicants, which would make for shorter reviews. Monroe said the process should be closer to what’s used by local municipal planning boards, on which board members can give an applicant direct feedback on how their projects could be improved.

Making any changes would be up to Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the state Legislature.

APA spokesman Keith McKeever said agency officials can’t comment on the discussion about its rules and powers because of the potential for litigation over the Adirondack Club project.

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