By Gwendolyn Craig
The Town of Lake Luzerne’s request to weaken zoning restrictions on about 100 acres near Lake Vanare was denied on Thursday in the Adirondack Park Agency’s park policy and planning committee following staff’s recommendation to do so, at least for now.
“We found that the area does not have any major physical constraints, but the comments expressing concerns about the loss of open space and rural character were valid,” said Matt Kendall, an APA staff member, about the Warren County town’s proposal.
Kendall recommended the committee deny the town’s request without prejudice, which the committee did unanimously. It leaves the door open, however, for Lake Luzerne to come back with its proposal again, though board members made clear they want more planning on a town-wide scale and more enthusiasm from town officials and residents before they would grant such a change.
More than three out of every four public comments submitted on the town’s proposal, including comments received after deadline, were against it, and town officials declined APA’s nudge to respond to those concerns.
The zoning change request sprang from the Adirondack Park’s own special zoning map with different land classifications allowing for different intensities of development. The park’s map can be changed through a map amendment request to the APA.
The Town of Lake Luzerne made its application to change about 100 acres from rural use to moderate intensity use, arguing that it would create a more uniform corridor and have an economic benefit. Town Supervisor Eugene Merlino had told Adirondack Explorer that more development would help the tax base. The map change would have allowed more than six times the number of buildings per square mile, from 75 to 500. Merlino had also said a property owner was interested in building housing on that site, but couldn’t under the APA zoning restrictions.
In his presentation before the APA committee and other APA board members on Thursday, Kendall said in order to approve a land reclassification, the agency must find it would adhere to the Adirondack Park Agency Act. That means it has to meet a list of qualifications including things like whether the change would be consistent with land use and development plans and town comprehensive plans.
The environmental impact analysis APA conducted showed there are two wetlands on the property and one stream that flows into Lake Vanare. Some of the forestland on the property is also listed as regionally important by the Wildlife Conservation Society. Analysis of the slopes and soils, however, showed much of the area could handle development. Staff also did not find the area was habitat to any rare or threatened species.
What caused APA staff the most concern was the number of neighbors who wrote comments worried about losing the neighborhood’s rural character and open space. Open space was also an important highlight of a town comprehensive planning document, too.
“I don’t see that the case was made that this was of overwhelming significance economically, and the comments weighed, I thought, fairly heavily in favor of open space values, which is part of what we’re supposed to be doing,” said John Ernst, APA board member and chair of the park policy and planning committee.
Andrea Hogan, an APA board member, agreed. Hogan is also the supervisor for the town of Johnsburg, which is also in Warren County.
“I would feel differently about it if the town were coming to the agency with a broader plan that addressed the whole town,” Hogan said. “This seems pretty concentrated.”
Ernst said a proposal like Lake Luzerne’s would be better if it was part of a community plan “rather than spot zoning.”
Brad Austin, an APA board member representing the state Department of Economic Development, said he felt the town needed to have a broader discussion with its residents about what the town’s future should be.
Aside from the comprehensive town planning point, board member Art Lussi said he did not feel the town was “overly supportive or defensive or wanting to get involved.” He would have liked to see a plan for water, sewer and electric infrastructure and more response from the town around its own proposal.
“To me, that was my overriding concern,” Lussi said. “I think the land actually has opportunity for that (map change) when the town is ready to present it with a little more fervent attitude.”