By Gwendolyn Craig
The Adirondack Park Agency’s upcoming Thursday and Friday meetings include two high-interest agenda items including the potential approval of a controversial subdivision project and a presentation on visitor use management and wildlands monitoring.
Thursday’s meeting will begin at 12 p.m. The APA’s regulatory committee is expected to meet at 12:15 p.m., where they will discuss a subdivision proposal around Woodward Lake in Fulton County. The committee is expected to vote on the project, but not the full board.
Friday’s meeting will begin at 9:30 a.m. The APA and state Department of Environmental Conservation will present on visitor use management and wildlands monitoring plans before the APA board’s State Land Committee.
Following that presentation, the APA board is expected to approve the Woodward Lake subdivision project.
The project proposal is over two years in the making, involving 32 building lots, one common lot and one developed lot. Eighteen of those proposed building lots would have shoreline on Woodward Lake in the Town of Northampton.
The subdivision, which is the first to be approved under the APA’s revised large-scale subdivision application, has drawn criticism from several advocacy groups in the Adirondacks, some whom have called it an APA failing.
Advocacy groups argue that the layout of these lots will cause forest fragmentation, a breaking up of a large forested area that can disrupt wildlife and change ecosystems. They also worry about the impact to Woodward Lake, which is rather shallow.
In a response letter to many public comments submitted about the proposal, the developer New York Land and Lakes Development said it feels the application “strikes a good balance between the interests of the developer while protecting to the maximum extent possible, a huge portion of the property.”
The new APA subdivision application was in part created to allow for more conservation-friendly design practices, but groups like Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve and Protect the Adirondacks, believe it has not changed the outcome of what is proposed by New York Land and Lakes Development.
Dave Gibson, managing partner of Adirondack Wild, said he believes APA staff tried to get New York Land and Lakes to come up with a better design, but “the developer argued, delayed and outlasted them.”
“The APA large-scale subdivision rules failed because they have no teeth in them and rely heavily on staff suggesting improvements to a developer,” Gibson said, in a news release. “Instead, this lake’s wetlands and water quality are severely imperiled by what is about to be authorized by the agency responsible for resource protection and long-range planning in the six-million-acre Adirondack Park.”
Peter Bauer, executive director of Protect the Adirondacks, said he believes the project should either be redesigned or sent to an adjudicatory public hearing. That type of hearing would allow the APA board to continue the permit application process and call for more changes.
The APA’s agenda, however, indicates the board will approve the project.
This is why many advocacy groups, including those above, are pushing for the state Legislature to pass a conservation design bill, which would hold the APA to stricter standards for approving subdivisions. The bill has the support of state Assemblyman Steve Englebright, D-Setauket, and state Sen. Todd Kaminsky, D-Long Island, who both chair their respective environmental committees.
The bill does not have the support of state Sen. Dan Stec, R-Queensbury. Stec said he does not believe the bill is needed, and the APA is already fulfilling its function.
“To tie their hands and say, you need to follow this process I think is overly burdensome. It’s not necessary,” Stec said, in an interview with Adirondack Explorer last week. “I know a lot of people at APA feel that way as well. I suppose it’s what your agenda is. If you want to stop all development, then you’re going to invent tools that are going to make more development difficult. But if your goal is to have a good, honest review by qualified, intelligent people that are working within a set of parameters and you don’t have a lot of money to throw at them to enforce a boatload of new rules, then I’d rather go with that.”
Alan Lord, project manager for New York Land and Lakes Development, added in a letter to the APA that the company feels it has in fact met the qualification for “conservation subdivision.” The building lots are clustered to a small portion of the property, for example. Lord highlighted other ways he believes the project has made attempts for a more environmentally friendly design such as doubling the minimum setback from the lake shore on most building sites and building on areas with the best soils and gentlest slopes.
About 27 acres, or 2.3% of the total property in the project, will be developed, Lord added. The rest of the property will be owned by a property association and protected.
“The Woodward Lake preferred plan may not meet the strict definition of a Conservation Subdivision,” Lord said, “but it does address the environmental concerns brought up in the public comments and is more than appropriate for the APA Rural Use Zone where most uses are permitted.”
Visitor use management and wildlands monitoring
Little information is available about what the APA and DEC will discuss on visitor use management and wildlands monitoring.
The presentation, however, shortly follows the release of a 55-page report from an advisory committee with recommendations on managing visitors in the High Peaks.
The DEC on Friday publicly released the report from the High Peaks Strategic Planning Advisory Committee, which recommended the DEC utilize pre-existing documents like the High Peaks Unit Management Plan and the National Park Services’ visitor use guidelines. It also recommended creating another state entity to manage visitors in that region.