Foundation placed before Adirondack Park Agency limited size in 2010 rule change
By Zachary Matson
The developer behind a pair of controversial marina projects near Saranac Lake has legacy rights to build a pair of private boathouses totalling 7,656 square feet and 14 slips in Lake Placid’s remote Echo Bay. The combined project would be more than six times the size of current Adirondack boathouse standards.
The Adirondack Park Agency in June denied a variance to a couple seeking to expand a boathouse to around 1,400 square feet, about 200 square feet more than the current standard, adopted in 2010. Agency attorney Chris Cooper at the June board meeting called it a “self-created difficulty” that the couple needed more space for a third antique boat.
Yet, Pennsylvania-based developer Keith Stoltz retains state approval to build what would be one of the last boathouses of its size in the Adirondacks, because he installed dozens of steel caissons at the boathouse site in 2010, according to state records.
While the project’s future is unclear, its regulatory history shows how a large boathouse project retained the right to be judged under a standard now more than a decade old, despite unpermitted work, according to state records obtained through the Freedom of Information Law.
Stoltz, who has several Adirondack real estate and philanthropic interests, did not respond to multiple requests for comment the past week. Mike Damp, who represented the boathouse property when it was up for sale, also did not respond to messages seeking comment.
Originally, the state Department of Environmental Conservation in August 2010 permitted a 5,582-square-foot, nine-slip boathouse to replace a much smaller one, and construction started in September of that year at a northeast corner of Lake Placid. But state officials discovered that builders had begun a second, unpermitted 2,800-square-foot, three-slip boathouse. The combined project would have exceeded 8,000 square feet.
Stoltz’s lawyer at the time argued the unpermitted structure was independent of the larger boathouse and did not rise to the size threshold that required a permit. State officials rejected the argument and served a complaint against the developer in 2014.
In fall 2015, the DEC and Stoltz, then represented by attorney Thomas Ulasewicz, entered into a consent agreement. The resolution called for a $50,000 civil penalty, $20,000 of which to be donated to the Lake Placid Land Conservancy for an easement project. The agreement also required Stoltz to submit a new permit application within 90 days to “cover, at a minimum, the permitted and unpermitted projects.”
The DEC in March 2017 authorized a revised proposal, this time for a nine-slip boathouse of around 5,500 square feet and a five-slip boathouse of around 2,000 square feet. The APA allowed the newly-permitted boathouses under the pre-September 2010 boathouse definition, since the agency had “previously confirmed that construction of these two structures was substantially undertaken prior to” Sept. 21, 2010, according to a 2016 APA letter.
Property records show Stoltz controls entities that own marinas at Lower Saranac Lake and Fish Creek Ponds – expansions of both marinas are opposed by neighbors – and a limited liability corporation that purchased the former Camp Woodsmoke at Echo Bay of Lake Placid in April 2010. The site was long owned by Shirley Hansen and Jane Bacon, who operated it as a youth camp.
APA that year moved to limit the size of boathouses and declared that as of Sept. 21, 2010 they could be no more than 1,200 square feet without a variance, issuing guidance about what would qualify as boathouse construction that was “substantially underway pursuant to a [DEC] permit.”
The developer obtained the DEC permit in August and started construction in time to be held to the previous APA boathouse definition. In the weeks before the change, Stoltz’s lawyer sought to ensure they would qualify.
“From a business and investment standpoint, it is imperative that my client achieve a ‘vested’ status as to the proposed boathouse,” attorney Tim Smith wrote in an August 2010 letter to APA counsel John Banta on behalf of LC Camp LLC, the entity that purchased Camp Woodsmoke.
A few days later, Smith sought assurances that if half of the boathouse foundation caissons were installed by Sept. 21, the boathouse would fall under the previous definition.
“My meticulous client has asked me to get something in writing,” Smith wrote in another missive to APA counsel. “Could you oblige?”
Banta responded that “the facts you described in your letter… would fit comfortably within the ‘substantial’ undertaking… so long as the overall structure conforms to both the relevant DEC permit and the Agency’s advice.” The APA concluded that a variance was unnecessary.
While construction commenced by the deadline, the project by the next year faced a cease-and-desist order from the APA and was tied up in legal wrangling with state agencies for the next few years.
An LC Camp architect in a 2016 letter to the APA indicated why a resolution was important: “Thank you for your cooperation in finalizing the issuance of the appropriate permits and assisting in the completion of this project which has been in an unsightly and unsafe condition for over six years.”
More than 10 years after the boathouse project commenced, the foundation remains on the lake with little evidence of new construction.
The DEC permit issued in 2017 allowing construction of a 7,656-square-foot combined project expired in October 2021, and the developer has not yet filed for a permit renewal, according to DEC.
In a statement last week, DEC said LC Camp has two years after the 2021 expiration of the permit to file for a renewal, which would be “administratively reissued” within 15 days if the renewal request meets all legal requirements. The project approved in 2017 would need to be completed by March 6, 2027, 10 years from original permit issuance, before requiring a new permit.
APA in a statement last week said the project’s “substantially underway” determination cannot change, since it was “based on the facts on the ground in September 2010,” unless the project proposal changed.
DEC said the violations for starting construction on an unpermitted boathouse were resolved through the consent order and that through the 2017 permit process the agency determined the two-boathouse project “would not have a significant impact to the environment.”
“The installation of caissons for the nine-slip boathouse were installed under a previous permit, and the installation of the caissons for the five-slip boathouse were resolved under the DEC consent order,” DEC said.
The lakefront property, which is near the state-owned McKenzie Mountain Wilderness, was listed for sale in the past few years at $5 million and marketed as having an “APA/DEC approved boathouse with foundation in place” that “will be the last boathouse to ever be built with current zoning.” The property this month reported “off market” on real estate websites.
The Lake Placid Land Conservancy in recent years launched a short-lived campaign to raise money to purchase the property with the hope of eventually transferring it to state land. The organization, which has since merged with the Adirondack Land Trust, faced unanimous opposition when it sought a resolution of support from the Town of St. Armand in February 2021.
Land trust spokesperson Mary Thill declined to comment when asked whether the organization planned to pursue the property.
St. Armand Supervisor Davina Winemiller said she doesn’t want to see the town’s tax base diminished with a transfer of land to the state. Winemiller estimated the lost revenue at about $20,000 a year or more.
“That’s a substantial amount they were asking the taxpayers of our area to come up with, so they could give this piece of land protection,” Winemiller said in an interview. “The only people who are ever going to notice it are the people who are already there (on the lake).”
Chloe Bennett contributed research to this article.