By Gwendolyn Craig
The state Attorney General’s Office and the Adirondack Park Agency have negotiated a new consent order with a Hudson River retreat owner, who will pay $42,000 for building illegal structures and other APA compliance problems. His compliance with the latest agreement, however, remains in question.
The case stems from what some APA board members had called one of the more significant enforcement cases in recent memory.
James John McDonald, a New York City resident, is the owner of the retreat called The Brampton and later renamed The Anglesey Lodge and Barn at 1525 and 1495 River Road in Thurman. With then-partner Jeffrey Lee, McDonald added a number of illegal structures to his property including a “glamping tent,” yoga deck, cabins and trailers.
Besides not having the proper permits for the additions made, the original single-family structure McDonald purchased was built illegally without an APA permit. At a February 2020 enforcement hearing, McDonald apologized and said he was ignorant of the APA’s rules and regulations. APA records showed a number of site visits, calls and letters to McDonald and his business partner that APA counsel said were ignored.
Following that hearing, the APA found McDonald and Lee to be in violation of the APA Act and the Wild, Scenic and Recreational Rivers System Act. APA staff recommended a $1.548 million fine for the more than 1,000 days they were in violation. McDonald and Lee were also facing state Health Department violations for a cesspool too close to the property’s drinking water source.
The APA board ordered the men to pay a $438,000 civil penalty, but if they paid 20% by March 6, 2020 and removed the unlawful structures, the remaining fine was to be suspended.
They did not pay the fine. The APA then referred the case to the state AG’s Office in late March 2020.
Warren County Supreme Court records show that the state has settled with McDonald through a new consent order.
In a confession of judgment dated Nov. 24, 2020, McDonald agreed to pay the original 20% of the APA fine–$87,600. A statement of judgment filed with the court on Feb. 5 said $45,600 of that is suspended, leaving McDonald on the hook for $42,000. He has paid $12,666.67 so far, records show, which is on time with a payment schedule coordinated with the state. Documents also show he has taken steps to remove some of the illegal structures and has fixed the wastewater treatment issues.
As part of the new consent order, McDonald is allowed to keep some of the illegal structures on the property, including the original home he purchased and a yoga deck.
A 2016 single-family home on the same lot as the original home may also be kept, court records show, “provided that he (McDonald) does not connect it to plumbing and does not rent it out to guests.” McDonald must remove the home by April 1, however, if he does not provide the APA with records of necessary town and county building permits for the home, or a letter from the municipalities saying no permits are needed, by Feb. 15.
Adirondack Explorer filed a freedom of information law request to the APA for those permits or a letter from the municipalities stating not permits are needed. On Feb. 24, the records access officer wrote in an email that, “after a diligent search the Agency has found no records responsive to your request.”
Part of the consent order arranged with the AG’s Office states that “McDonald will not operate the Brampton (or the Anglesey Lodge & Barn or any business at this property going by any other name) as a tourist accommodation or any commercial use without a permit issued by the Agency.”
It does allow McDonald to rent the original house and another cabin, “to no more than one party at a time, respectively.” He may rent out the two houses to different parties at the same time, the court record adds, but during that rental period, “McDonald will not advertise, offer, or provide outside services.” McDonald is also not allowed to reside on the property while he rents it, nor allow any outside person on the property during the rental period.
A records request to the APA for McDonald’s tourist accommodation permit turned up nothing. The agency’s records officer said the APA is not reviewing any application, either, as of Feb. 4.
The Anglesey Lodge and Barn has a booking website of its own and is advertising openings through a vacation rental website called “Evolve.” The latest guest review online, which was positive, was published Jan. 19. The average booking is listed at $959 per night with a $350 cleaning fee and an additional guest service fee.
McDonald did not respond to a request for comment via his website’s email. The AG’s Office, in an emailed statement to Adirondack Explorer, said it does not comment on legal strategy or litigation. An APA spokesperson said he could not comment on McDonald’s compliance because the matter was ongoing.
It’s not clear where Lee stands with the AG’s Office and the APA, though he no longer appears to be working with McDonald. On the property’s new website, it says “the properties have undergone some minor renovations and are now under new management.” Lee had been living on site at the time of the enforcement hearing and was acting as the property manager.
Court records state that the settlement with McDonald does not preclude the state from pursuing action against Lee.