Environmentalists say APA falls short on requiring conservation design standards
By Gwendolyn Craig
The Adirondack Park Agency issued its third notice of incomplete application to a developer looking to build a luxury subdivision in the town of Jay. Some environmental organizations believe the agency’s notice falls short, and much more information is needed.
Eric Stackman, based in Miami, Fla., submitted new materials on April 7 to the APA, which is charged with overseeing public and private development in the 6-million-acre park. Stackman is looking to build a 72-room hotel, multiple mansions, villas and townhomes on 385 acres along the Ausable River on the west side of state Route 9N. It is about a half-hour drive to Whiteface Mountain in Wilmington.
John Burth, an environmental program specialist with the APA, informed Stackman the project could not be started until there is an agency permit. He outlined six criteria before the agency could consider the application complete.
In a phone interview Thursday morning, Stackman said he was reviewing the APA’s notice. He declined further comment on the APA’s specific questions, adding that the permit process was continuing.
It is not clear when Stackman may submit a new application. When and if it is complete, the APA would publish a notice for public comments on the project. In an interview with the Explorer in October, Stackman and his associate Roberta Alba said they hoped to have all required permits by the spring or summer of 2023. They received their first notice of incomplete application in December 2021.
‘Isn’t even close’
Christopher Amato, conservation director and counsel for the environmental organization Protect the Adirondacks, said the APA’s latest notice does not ask Stackman for enough information.
“This application isn’t even close to being complete,” Amato said. “The whole purpose of the large-scale subdivision application, according to the agency, is to encourage the clustering of development and minimizing impervious surfaces and avoiding fragmentation of the landscape. The application has yet to submit any plan that meets those standards, and the agency doesn’t seem to be insisting that those standards be met.”
The APA said the application needs to state if the town or any other entity will take on any roads or infrastructure proposed and lacks information on solar arrays and forest management, building and proposed activity plans.
Other key items from the APA’s most recent requests are:
- The latest application included three potential site layouts. The APA has asked which is the current proposal. The site design must include wetland delineations, visual and slopes analysis and biologist surveys. While Stackman and Alba provided some information on plants and animals in their latest submission, the APA noted the information should come from “a qualified biologist” and should span “multiple seasons.”
- The APA requires joint review with other agencies. Stackman and Alba still have to contact the Department of Health. They have to contact the New York State Electric & Gas Company about utilities and electrical loading.
- Design plans for an on-site wastewater treatment system must be submitted.
- State Police and the AuSable Forks Fire District need to be contacted about emergency responses.
- The APA wants the anticipated ownership configuration and maintenance responsibilities of the proposed access roads, utilities, open space and trail system, and other amenities such as employee housing.
This is the second project to go through the APA’s large-scale subdivision permit application, created in 2018. Amato believes the application is not working and was in disbelief that biological surveys had not been conducted before the design phase.
“They’ve already put all this money and time into designing a project without knowing what in the world is actually on the project site,” Amato said. “And this is a recurring problem with the way that the agency allows applicants to operate.”
Protect the Adirondacks and other environmental organizations have been pushing for state legislators to pass a bill requiring conservation design for large-scale subdivisions under the APA’s jurisdiction. Conservation design involves protecting open space and clustering development near infrastructure. Buildings would be placed on the most suitable slopes and soils to protect wetlands, water bodies and large forest blocks. Amato said Stackman’s claims that his design is clustered is contradicted by his “system of roads, houses, cabins, clubhouse and restaurant” across a large area.
The APA has consistently dismissed the idea that it needs legislation to implement conservation design. Amato said the fact that the agency hasn’t created an enforceable regulation for conservation design shows the permit is a “fallacy.” He was not sure whether state legislators would pass pending legislation this year.
Protect is also concerned that the APA is inadequately assessing projects, not just Stackman’s, for climate impacts. Amato pointed to the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, which directs state agencies issuing permits to determine if the greenhouse gas emissions from such projects “will be inconsistent with or will interfere with the attainment of the statewide emission limit.”
Amato said given the size of the Jay project, the forest clearing proposed and the increased vehicle traffic, it “will result in additional hundreds of tons of carbon debt.” Amato urged APA to request Stackman account for the project’s greenhouse gas emissions.
The APA did not include that question in its latest notice.