Variance request for housing antique boat collection deemed ‘self-created difficulty’
By Gwendolyn Craig
The Adirondack Park Agency rejected a request from camp owners on Spitfire Lake in Franklin County to build a boathouse addition to accommodate a third antique boat.
Applicants Andrew Hawkins and Lisa Walsh said the addition was needed as their second home may only be accessed by lake and antique boats tend to break down. The couple also spends “a King’s ransom,” they told APA staff at a public hearing last month, on restoring their boats and needed them to be covered from the elements. In the same hearing, an architect for the couple said APA’s alternative ideas would be an economic burden.
The existing boathouse is considered “non-conforming” under the APA’s rules and regulations — that is, it does not meet the specifications of APA’s definition of a boathouse. But, it was built before the definition was adopted and thus allowed to stand. To expand the existing boathouse, Hawkins and Walsh applied for a variance. They wanted to increase the size by more than 40% to 1,466 square feet.
Hawkins and Walsh had issues with staff recommendations on ways to avoid needing a variance. One was to build a second boathouse for their 1907 Fay & Bowen. The couple also owns a 1953 Chris-Craft Riviera and a 1955 Lyman wooden boat.
“To be blunt, I think it is a bit of an eyesore,” Hawkins told staff about a rendering his architect created of another boathouse. “When we think about the sort of aesthetic for our neighbors, I just don’t feel comfortable about imposing something like that on them.”
Michael Bird, architect with Adirondack Design, said an addition to the existing boathouse would be more environmentally friendly than building another one. Staff had also recommended building a taller structure to house the boats using a hoist system, storing boats at a marina and building storage on land.
Several APA board members brainstormed alternatives, but APA Attorney Chris Cooper said the board was obligated to make a decision on what the applicant proposed.
“They had the opportunity to make these modifications previously and did not,” Cooper said.
Gerald Delaney, executive of the Adirondack Park Local Government Review Board, said he thought the variance proposal was “the best option,” adding it was a “tricky conversation.”
Variances are generally approved so that a landowner doesn’t lose the use of their property, and Cooper said this application did not meet that standard. Cooper said the applicants did not offer proof that staff’s alternatives were economically unfeasible.
“This is a self-created difficulty of — we want to have three antique boats,” Cooper said.
APA board member Ken Lynch said he felt the agency’s regulations were working against the board. Member Mark Hall agreed, adding that the agency was supposed to reduce environmental impacts as much as possible. They felt the variance did that. So did board member Art Lussi.
Brad Austin, APA board member representing Empire State Development, questioned the public safety reasons that the applicants gave of needing another boat. They could have bought a third boat that didn’t need to be covered, he said.
“I thought that was a little bit stretched, frankly,” APA Chairman John Ernst said. “First of all, there is road access. … Two antique boats and access is your problem, you don’t buy a third antique boat.”
Lynch said he didn’t think the applicant had demonstrated the need for a variance, “but it is very frustrating that the ultimate outcome of this could be more detrimental to a denial.”
“I’m going to vote against denial because I think the possible environmental effect will be worse,” Lussi said.
APA Board Member Zoe Smith said the agency wasn’t voting on whether the applicant needed a new boathouse, but on the variance.
Randy Young, a state Department of Environmental Conservation representative filling in for APA Board Member Joe Zalewski, said he would reluctantly vote to deny the variance because it didn’t meet the standards, even if some of the alternatives had greater environmental impact. Hall, Austin, Ernst and others expressed similar feelings.
The board turned down the variance with Lussi opposed to the denial.
Reached by phone on Friday morning, Hawkins said he did not have a comment.
Linda Cohen says
I didn’t know I was reading the Adirondack Enquirer. Do we have to fear you coming to report on our private lives now? Why not report on the people who are actually hurting the park, like logging, energy and crypto fiends? Or the hunters who exterminate the few animals that are left… Can honest people who pay taxes and live here be left alone? Sometimes I see really great reporting on this magazine but sometimes there are stories like this that just demoralzie me.
Ray Letterman says
I don’t share Ms. Cohen’s concern. Yes, we need the reports that she requests but we also need articles like this one on how the APA Board is making the critical decisions that protect and preserve the Park. A ruling on an a building variance is not a trivial matter and if no one is watching and reporting who knows what will happen.
Joan Grabe says
It was very interesting to read the arguments expressed by the APA over this boat house variance as, years ago, we asked the Town of Santa Clara for a variance to build a new bigger boat house in lieu of a grandfathered boat house.The existing boat house was bigger than the allowed footage at that time. Michael Bird successfully argued our case and only one member was not in favor of our proposal and he told us later that he could not face his constituents if he had voted in favor. Oddly enough, at that date, we could have legally built several boat houses along the shore line which would have looked awful in our opinion.
When asking for a variance it is no longer a personal matter but it becomes a community
matter and we wanted to be part of the community. The APA and the various town boards read the regulations and respond to the arguments – local government working as it should.