By Wendy Liberatore
This story was originally published in the Times Union of Albany.
LONG LAKE — With the plan to sell the 36,000-acre Whitney Adirondack estate faltering, owner John Hendrickson will now look to subdivide the property into 11 lots of about 3,200 acres each — with at least one lake per plot, he said.
The new plan comes despite calls from environmentalists to sell the vast and pristine wilderness to the state. If approved by the Adirondack Park Agency, the sale could bring in up to $238 million. That’s $58 million more than the original overall asking price of $180 million.
Hendrickson, widower of philanthropist Marylou Whitney, said he needs to sell the land because he will no longer be able to take the tax breaks on the lands that the Whitneys have long enjoyed. Whitney Industries, the logging business on the property that was allowed the tax abatement, is disqualified, he said, because it does not make enough money.
“I’m an environmentalist,” said Hendrickson, who was bequeathed the property after his wife died in 2019. “I’m not clear-cutting; I’m not desecrating the land. So all of a sudden, the federal government tells me I’m not making enough money and it’s a passive business. I couldn’t write off anything — the people who take care of the roads, the timber manager. They are forcing my hand.”
Hendrickson said that he did try to sell the entire property in the heart of the Adirondacks as one estate. However, he said the size was overwhelming to buyers who couldn’t visit the whole property even in a span of three days.
“It’s a hundred miles of roads, 22 bodies of water, a lot of mountaintops,” Hendrickson said. “It’s two and a half times the size of Manhattan. It’s 70 Monacos. It’s hard to get your hands around it.”
The Adirondack Council, which is committed to protecting the natural environment of the Adirondack Park, said it opposes the prospect of chopping up the land for sale.
“We are concerned about subdivision,” said John Sheehan, the spokesman for the Council. “It is largely undeveloped except for a few lakeside homes. In its current undivided and undeveloped state, it provides many benefits, including absorbing greenhouse gases, while cooling and purifying the local waters. Dividing this intact forest into smaller pieces would alter the landscape in many ways. It would require the construction of a new road network, outdoor lighting and other development that would erect barriers to wildlife movement and prevent some wilderness species from living there any longer.”
The Council said the proposed sale would also be costly to the taxpayers who would have to pay for services to new homes, including road maintenance, fire and police protection and schools. He also said that if the state owned the land, which is what the advocacy group would like to see, it would not only leave the tract untouched, it would be a windfall for the town as the state pays full property tax rates on forested lands.
Hendrickson, who is changing Whitney Industries’ name to Whitney Real Estate, said he won’t sell to New York because he feels the state is a poor steward. He points to the 1997 deal in which Whitney sold 15,000 acres on Little Tupper Lake to the state. He said the state damaged the trout population by allowing someone to introduce bass.
He also said he would require conservation easements on the property to preserve the surrounding wilderness, envisioning one house per 3,200 acres. He would keep the Whitney guest house on Little Tupper Lake. The main home, the 17-bedroom Deerland great camp on Little Forked Lake, would go for $50 million.
He contends the Adirondack Park Agency can’t stop him from subdividing as he is following all the regulations and is submitting the required master plan.
Sheehan agrees that the agency, which has previously approved subdivisions, is unlikely to impede Hendrickson’s plans.
“Given the large lot sizes, and the Adirondack Park Agency’s recent record of approving subdivisions without clustering development into compact areas, we have little confidence that the APA will stop the current proposal,” Sheehan said. “There is legislation pending that would require all such subdivisions to conserve open space and avoid creating obstacles that limit the movement of wildlife.”
Still, Sheehan said, Hendrickson’s selling price was too high at $180 million and is now even more inflated.
“In Long Lake, acreage is roughly valued at $1,600 per acre,” Sheehan said. “That means it’s worth between $56 to $58 million. That’s a solid figure.”
Hendrickson disagrees, but said “everyone is entitled to their own opinion.” He also believes he is doing what is best for the property.
“I don’t want to antagonize the environmentalists,” Hendrickson said. “Their only solution is give it to the state. I’m not going to do that.”