Tupper Lake deserves better

The proposed Adirondack Club and Resort would sprawl around the Big Tupper Ski Area. Photo by Nancie Battaglia
The proposed Adirondack Club and Resort would sprawl around the Big Tupper Ski Area. Photo by Nancie Battaglia

At first glance the proposal might seem irresistible: a development that would bring affluent residents and visitors, resurrect a cherished ski resort, create jobs, and revive an Adirondack region that desperately needs new vitality.

But we long ago moved beyond the first glance at the Adirondack Club and Resort proposal in Tupper Lake. And, sadly, the development as currently proposed presents unacceptable environmental and financial risks.

The resort envisions a style of subdivision that forgoes crucial conservation principles, carves up land that’s supposed to be protected as open space, and rests on a financial strategy that Adirondack real-estate experts describe as far-fetched.

Developer Michael Foxman and his partners first announced their plans for 6,200 acres in Tupper Lake in 2004. After public debate and private mediation sessions, the proposal has evolved into a $500 million development with 660 residential units, a hotel, restaurant, and a refurbished Big Tupper Ski Area. The Adirondack Park Agency is in the midst of a hearing on whether to give the developers permits and whether to attach conditions.

The financial underpinnings of the project rely heavily on the early sale of “Great Camp” lots ranging from nineteen to 770 acres. The land that the developers would subdivide into these lots is classified as Resource Management and by state law is supposed to require special care to protect natural open space.

While this large-lot development might appear to leave much of the forested property in a natural state, it is actually more destructive of natural values than clustered development. The building lots and the roads and utilities serving them would fragment natural areas, disturb wildlife habitat, and threaten water quality through erosion and runoff. On the other hand, concentrating development around the ski area would preserve significant natural tracts surrounding a more intensively built-out core area, while still allowing for lots large enough to offer seclusion. Clustering development this way would have the added benefit of preserving forests that border on Follensby Park, a lovely wild area destined to become part of the state Forest Preserve.

Foxman has said that he hopes to sell forty to fifty high-priced lots and homes a year at prices ranging from $100,000 to $5 million to pay for the infrastructure his plans call for. Sales like that would dwarf those on record in any market in the Adirondacks, including high-end property on waterfront, which the Adirondack Club and Resort has little of. Yet the improvements to Big Tupper that so many in the region support rely on these sales and would not take place for at least three years.

Some supporters of the project take comfort from the idea that once permits are in hand, other developers could be found to take over if the current developers can’t make a go of it. In that view, if the first speculators’ business model doesn’t work surely someone else will step in who is better capitalized or has a better business plan.

This thinking sounds uncomfortably like the notions that fueled recent speculative bubbles, not only in real estate but in financial markets. Even if an investment doesn’t work on its merits, according to this rationale, there will always be someone else to take it over. Some call it the “greater fool theory.” It’s OK to make rash financial gambles on an investment as long as someone is willing to make an even rasher one and buy you out if you get in trouble. The flaw should be apparent. At some point you run out of people willing to buy an investment whose fundamentals don’t make sense. Then the tech stock bubble bursts, the subprime lending market collapses, or someone is left holding the bag for investments in an unfinished development in Tupper Lake.

Tupper Lake and the surrounding region need development that’s sustainable in both the environmental and financial senses. A resort centered on Big Tupper could meet those tests if it is less sprawling, and truly preserves open space—and if its financial underpinning reflects a more realistic forecast of what the real-estate market is likely to support. Maybe the Adirondack Club and Resort developers could transform their plans, but as currently proposed the project should not be approved.

—Tom Woodman, Publisher

Reader Interactions

Comments

  1. Mark Moeller says

    Nice “hit job” from the green coalition bound and determined to kill the Adirondack Club and Resort in Tupper Lake. You cite a “greater fool theory” but you have it wrong. The “greater fool theory” would be to follow the lies, half truths and ignorance cited in this article and by groups such as the Adirondack Council. The ACR will disturb less than 10% of the total area that they will own. Strict building guidelines designed for the great camp lots will preserve substantial tracts of
    undisturbed acerage. This property is already fragmented by the Big tupper Ski Center, and by miles of logging roads and by over 100 years of logging. I also question your ability to assess the financial viability. Since when did the green groups become developers? The overwhelming majority of Tupper Lake residents are for this project and are ready to place their trust in the private developers who have already done more for Tupper Lake than any green group ever has. This article is very misleading and self serving.

  2. Kate Martin says

    What a self-serving piece of editorial crap. You know nothing about development, you don’t care about the people of Tupper Lake nor the developers who are here to help. And, why do you think you are that you can dictate to someone what they do with their land? America has lost its freedom of ownership. We love our Ski mountain, and the developers are helping us to not only keep it, but improve upon it. If you understand anything about your finances, you might realise that they need to sell homes in order to get back the millions of dollars that have been wasted by groups like you as well as help fund the revitalisation of the ski mountain.So, kindly leave us alone. Us Tupper Lakers don’t need your misleading article and your desire to destroy our hope for the future.

  3. David Hill says

    Come out to the southwestern U.S. and observe first
    hand, after the fact, what happens when too much trust
    is placed in the hands of “developers.”

  4. Paul says

    Tom, Maybe this dialogue would not be so confrontational if you (or these other entities) would specifically describe this “other” development that you say could be viable. Be specific on how the plans could be “transformed” and still attract the investment needed to get the job done?

  5. Baby Huey says

    Opinion piece? Yes but two facts can’t be denied. Economic projections are well beyond what any other comparable properties are selling for. Secondly, the development could have a lower environmental impact using a different design. Those are facts. We should approve and support it anyaway! No PILOT though!

    Mark, according APA staff the percentage would actually be 18%. While there are miles of logging roads that really doesn’t compare to the fragmentation provided by 700 homes and long driveways and roads that may be paved and certainly driven more.

    Kate, we do live within the Adirondacks. We know what that means from a regulatory stand point. Lets admit the environmental impacts, they are small on the grand scheme of things, and get this thing built.

    Honestly isn’t the health of the people of Tupper Lake, the human community more important than the 6,00+ acres. Yes it will be fragmented. Who cares!

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