By Gwendolyn Craig
An Adirondack retreat near the Hudson River, featured as a desirable destination by Outside magazine and other outlets, has been fined by the Adirondack Park Agency and instructed to cease operating.
The Warren County retreat is called “The Brampton” and includes a number of small cabins and trailers, a “glamping tent,” yoga deck and other structures, most of which were built without proper permits, records show.
Following an approximately three-year enforcement case and a public hearing earlier this month, owner James John McDonald and partner Jeffrey Lee were fined a civil penalty of $438,000 with 20% pending by March 6, according to a news release on Friday. The remainder may be suspended if all operations cease and all unlawful structures and signs are removed.
The fine is significantly less than what APA staff had requested to impose on the New York City men: $1.548 million for more than 1,000 days of being in violation of the Adirondack Park Agency Act and the Wild, Scenic and Recreational Rivers System Act.
Reached by phone Friday, Lee said Adirondack Explorer’s first report on the enforcement case was a “horrible story” and included “a bunch of lies,” though he declined to say what was incorrect. When asked for comment on the APA’s decision, Lee told a reporter to “just make it up like you always do,” followed by a number of profanities.
The multiple violations on the approximately 12-acre rental property in Thurman date back to 2017, starting with four and more than doubling over the years as McDonald and Lee continued to add non-permitted structures.
During a public hearing on Feb. 13, APA Senior Attorney Jennifer Hubbard recounted 20 phone calls, three site visits, an APA office meeting, four staff letters and three proposed settlements staff made in an attempt to resolve the matter prior to a full APA board enforcement hearing.
Lee and McDonald testified, and both claimed an engineer they were working with was responsible for the lack of communication. Hubbard pointed to how settlement agreements were mailed directly to Lee and McDonald and left unanswered.
On Feb. 14, members of the APA announced they had reached a decision on the matter in executive session. Adirondack Explorer filed a freedom of information law request for the decision, which it received on Friday.
McDonald may not have realized when he purchased the property in 2016 that the single-family dwelling built sometime around 1995 was an illegal structure, built without an APA permit. But as McDonald and Lee turned the property into a tourist accommodation, hosting yoga retreats, weddings, corporate retreats and vacations, neighbors complained about the noise and drew the attention of the APA.
In addition to violating the APA Act and the Wild, Scenic and Recreational Rivers System Act, the property has a cesspool too close to its shallow drinking water source, in violation of state Department of Health standards.
McDonald and Lee were served the APA’s decision on Feb. 21, records show, and within 15 days of service they are required to provide notice that all current reservations at The Brampton have been canceled. They are also not allowed to accept additional reservations until they apply for and receive proper permits, and are required to cease advertising.
As of Friday afternoon, The Brampton’s website was still live and appeared open for reservations.
According to the APA’s decision, The Brampton’s signs must be removed by April 1. A yoga deck, camper van, tent platform, outdoor staircase, two trailers and an outhouse must be removed by June 1. A single-family dwelling must be removed by July 1.
McDonald and Lee must also submit a design for a proper wastewater treatment system by April 1, and it must be installed by Sept. 1.
The $438,000 fine, according to the determination document, is the culmination of 730 days of violations starting Feb. 13, 2018. The penalty includes $200 per day for violating the APA Act and $400 for violating the Wild, Scenic and Recreational Rivers System Act. Of that fine, $87,600 is due March 6.
“The remaining $350,400 of the total penalty is suspended pending satisfactory completion of remediation by the deadlines specified,” according to the APA’s decision. “Should any element of the remediation not be completed by its respective deadline, the suspended $350,400 penalty shall be immediately due and payable to the State of New York.”
APA staff will be checking on McDonald and Lee’s progress with site inspections.