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.