By BRANDON LOOMIS
Adirondack environmental groups are cheering for a number of legislative accomplishments this session, though they remain without one of their top prizes: a conservation development law.
Lawmakers authorized millions of dollars for land purchases, an aggressive climate-action law and new funds for water treatment—all wins for the park’s environmentalists.
But he Adirondack Council, Adirondack Wild and Protect the Adirondacks all went into 2019 hoping that the new Democratic lock on power in Albany would suffice to enact a law requiring large-subdivision developers in the park to cluster building lots in ways that leave undisturbed a property’s wildlife corridors, sensitive beaches and other natural assets.
The concept, which had also come up short when Republicans held the state Senate in 2018, would replace old low-density standards that spread out development but did not account for unique habitat impacts.
“Conservation design for large subdivisions in sensitive parts of the Adirondack Park should be the standard, not the rare exception,” said David Gibson, Adirondack Wild’s managing partner.
Environmentalists have pressed for conservation standards since the Adirondack Park Agency approved the Adirondack Club and Resort in Tupper Lake—a major second-home project that they predict will amplify its effects by spreading them out. The APA adopted its own conservation development guidelines for reviewing large subdivisions, but the groups backing legislation want to ensure future administrations don’t change course.
Wild, the Council and Protect on Thursday joined the Adirondack Mountain Club in a joint statement about their disappointment. They said late-session interference by Republican Sen. Betty Little and Rep. Dan Stec, both of whom represent Adirondack communities, had scuttled otherwise bipartisan support.
They also said the Adirondack Park Agency had “worked to undermine the legislation,” and that agency leadership had “failed to engage on or provide suggestions for legislation to improve the APA Act despite invitations and presentations from national experts and scientists on the benefits of conservation development regulations.”
Stec told the Adirondack Explorer his status in the minority party ensured that he had no “veto authority” over the legislation. In fact, he said, the Democrats set the agenda but declined to bring the bill up for a vote.
“It seems someone is scapegoating,” Stec said.
Perhaps Democrats realized they would face a backlash for passing a bill that few constituents had considered, he said. The legislation was introduced with no consultation from Adirondack legislators and with little awareness by local officials in the park, he said.
“It would be grossly irresponsible to vote on legislation affecting people’s rights in the dark of night without making any real attempt to make people aware,” Stec said.
Democratic Rep. Steve Englebright and Sen. Todd Kaminsky introduced the bills and amended them to satisfy local leaders and the Common Ground Alliance, Adirondack Council Executive Director Willie Janeway said. “We were disappointed to see progress come up short when Senator Betty Little and Assemblyman Dan Stec refused to support the compromise legislation.”
The Adirondack Park Agency did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Neither did Sen. Little.
Prior to the session, APA spokesman Keith McKeever told the Explorer that park officials in Ray Brook support continuing their “scientifically based review and approval of land-use development in the Adirondack Park.”
“Any legislation to mandate clustering must be fully vetted to avoid the unintended outcome of higher density of development than presently authorized and associated negative impacts to the park’s unique natural resources and open-space character,” he said in December.
In other developments out of Albany, the Council on Thursday released a statement lauding legislators for:
- Authorizing up to 250 acres for a voter-approved land bank allowing local Adirondack governments to improve roads, utilities, water treatment and other needs on state forest lands.
- Approving the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, intended to reduce the state’s greenhouse gas emissions 85 percent by 2050 and direct funds to communities affected by climate change.
- Renewing the state’s authority to regulate boaters to prevent the spread of invasive species. The law does not require boaters park-wide to decontaminate vessels before launching, though the Council said lawmakers pledged improvements next year.
- Including $33 million in the Environmental Protection Fund for protection of open space, with $2.5 million for a Land Trust Alliance grant program and $200,000 for the Lake George Park Commission.
- Approving a $250,000 environmental justice category for the Environmental Protection Fund, including $250,000 to help the Adirondack Diversity Initiative to staff what has previously been an all-volunteer effort to create a more inclusive park.