The APA’s slippery criteria

Preserve Associates wants to build a 706-unit development near the Big Tupper Ski Area. Photo by Carl Heilman II.
Preserve Associates wants to build a 706-unit development near the Big Tupper Ski Area. Photo by Carl Heilman II.

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.

About Phil Brown

Phil Brown edited the Adirondack Explorer from 1999 until his retirement in 2018. He continues to explore the park and to write for the publication and website.

Reader Interactions


  1. Werner says

    Wishful thinking and living. Retire in 25 below ? Work Part time , paint some pictures ? $ 1000 Dollars to rent a unit ? Who are they kidding? Its a getting rich scheme that unsuspecting folks will fall for. Or are they waiting for gambling too like in the dilapitated Catskill Resorts. Bad news, bad choice.

  2. Jon says

    Seriously? I’d love to see the research that supports the need for so much housing to be built in the Tupper Lake area.

    I wasn’t aware that people are moving up there in droves to settle down (heavily laced with sarcasm). No offense meant to the town of Tupper Lake, but every time I drive through it, it surely doesn’t seem like a bustling metropolis that is bursting at the seams for new housing. This idea is preposterous. Something smells very fishy here.

  3. Paul says

    “Essentially, RM lands are timberlands.” Assuming this is true how many more acres of Park land are considered to be off limits to development because of this?

  4. Ned says

    It doesnt matter if you will buy one of these buildings or not. What matters is if someone ELSE will. “Tupper lake not a bustling metropolis?” No kidding….thats why development is needed. With the ski slope, wild center and lakes, this area could rival Placid and be a great financial shot in the arm to the north country. As long as the DEVELOPER assumes the risks, let the project go thru assuming it gets by the APA. NYS is tough enough to do business in, lets not get in the way of a developer who (god forbid) wants to make a buck by improving a community.

  5. Phil says

    Paul, most RM lands are “open space” lands–generally timberlands or agricultural lands. I didn’t mean to imply that they are all being logged, if that’s your point.

  6. ADK Native says

    “With the ski slope, wild center and lakes, this area could rival Placid”

    Let’s be serious. This is never going to happen.

    I’m also curious who did the research that suggests this real estate is actually going to sell.

    “206 single-family homes, 453 townhouse units (in 125 buildings), thirty-nine Great Camps, and eight artist cabins.”

    In this economy? No way.

    If you have the money to build a “great camp” you aren’t building it in some development outside of Tupper Lake. Sorry.

    Let’s get real.

    ” As long as the DEVELOPER assumes the risks”

    Yeah, awesome. I’d like to see the developer potentially lose his money, but who wants to look at the swaths of forest torn up for no reason.

    APA- Just say no!

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