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.