Fulton County

Environmental groups worried by Adirondack subdivision near Northville

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FULTON COUNTY — Environmental groups are expressing their concerns about the environmental impacts of a 34-lot subdivision to be built around Woodward Lake in northern Fulton County as the Adirondack Park Agency prepares to consider a subdivision permit for the project.

The plans by New York Land and Lakes Development LLC of Oneonta call for building lots to be located around the perimeter of the 129-acre man-made impoundment, in a concept critics say doesn’t sufficiently protect the environment, or comply with cluster subdivision regulations the APA adopted in 2018.

The APA board is expected to act on the project at virtual meetings being held Thursday and Friday. Woodward Lake is the first major subdivision to fall under the 2018 clustering regulation, so environmental groups say they’re concerned the agency didn’t push the developer harder for changes.

“The APA failed to hold a hearing and so far has ignored all public comment letters asking the agency to do the right thing here,” said David Gibson, managing partner of Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve. “Instead, the lake’s wetlands and water quality are severely impaired by what is about to be authorized by the agency responsible for resource protection and long-range planning in the six-million-acre Adirondack Park.”

The 1,169-acre Woodward Lake property is located in the towns of Northampton and Mayfield, in the foothills northwest of Northville. It is inside the Adirondack Park boundary, giving the park agency final say over major subdivisions. The land is zoned under two separate designations –  rural use and resource management – limiting the average density of the subdivision.

The Woodward Lake subdivision proposal includes 18 houses “clustered” around the lake, and a new 2,000-foot road from Collins-Gifford Valley Road. All the lots would rely on private wells and septic systems. A 189-acre “common area” that includes lake frontage would be owned by a homeowner’s association, and only boats with no motors or small electric motors will be allowed on the lake.

Environmental groups say the project isn’t a genuine cluster subdivision — in which building lots are grouped closely together in return for keeping surrounding land undeveloped.

“This was basically the same subdivision from beginning to end. The APA did not change it much,” said Peter Bauer, executive director of Protect the Adirondacks, another concerned group. “The developer wanted piano-key lots around a small lake and will scatter development throughout the tract.”

In a Feb. 8 letter to the APA responding to criticisms, New York Land and Lakes Development project manager Alan M. Lord said that large private lots are what buyers are looking for and will add more value to town tax rolls, and property lines on a map won’t interfere with wildlife activity by fragmenting habitat.

“We believe the Woodward Lake proposal strikes a good balance between the interests of the developer while protecting to the maximum extent possible a huge portion of the property much the way we did with the Woodworth Lake property several years ago,” Lord wrote.

The Woodworth Lake project was also done by New York Land and Lakes. It was approved in 2015 at a former Boy Scout camp a dozen miles south in the Fulton County town of Bleeker. It included 24 lots around a large lake and drew similar criticisms from green groups.

The APA staff has recommended approval of the Woodward Lake permit with numerous conditions, but the final decision will be up to the APA board. The board’s Regulatory Affairs Committee is scheduled to discuss the staff recommendation at a virtual meeting on Thursday, and the full APA board will then consider the committee recommendation on Friday. The Northampton town planning board has already given local subdivision approval.

APA staff is recommending 50 conditions on the agency approval, including no further subdivision or construction on each lot beyond a single-family residence and one auxiliary building. With the conditions, the agency concludes that the subdivision “will not have an undue adverse impact” on the environment, and not result in a loss of any of about 170 acres of wetlands on the site.

Gibson said the pending approval shows that the clustering standard needs to be mandatory for developers, not voluntary — which would require a law to be passed by the state Legislature. “A new legal mandate is the only way to direct Adirondack developers towards true conservation of large subdivisions like this one,” Gibson said.

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