Neighbors, entrepreneur clash over 300-lot project on Great Sacandaga Lake
By Gwendolyn Craig
Lane Winney owns 83 acres at the southern end of Great Sacandaga Lake that cross into the Adirondack Park’s invisible Blue Line. The Fulton County woodland with an old mining operation gets logged now and then by the 55-year-old Winney. He takes the pine and other timber to build picnic tables, storage sheds and pavilions.
The Winney property sits along part of dead-end Woods Hollow Road where residents enjoy the nature and quiet, except for a few bustling nights courtesy of the Lakeside Tavern and Marina at the road’s end. So when Winney proposed building a 300-lot destination RV park across from Michelle Kaplan, she and other neighbors felt the rug had been pulled from beneath them.
“We all moved here for a reason,” Kaplan said. “It will change totally.”
The plans are in its early stages, though Winney hopes to have the RV complex running within two years.
But not without a fight. Kaplan and neighbor Christine Goossens hired attorney Claudia Braymer to block the plan. It is currently before the town of Mayfield’s planning board. Goossens and Kaplan, along with other area residents, believe the campground will create more noise, light pollution and traffic problems, and harm the natural environment.
Mounting opposition, conflicts
Winney has found himself the center of unwanted publicity. Kaplan started an online petition opposing the project and has collected more than 1,000 signatures. She created a website, Save Woods Hollow, where she uploads the latest application documents and communications. The site advertises $30 T-shirts displaying “Protect the Hollow” and a map of Great Sacandaga Lake. Proceeds go to “efforts to stop the RV Park,” according to the website.
Goossens said many people dismiss their group as “not in my backyard,” but “it’s quite alarming,” for those living on Woods Hollow Road.
Though some people have trespassed on his land, Winney now has to contend with people videotaping. James Morgan, a 28-year-old descendant of the Mohawk Nation, who goes by the moniker, “The Modern Native,” set up a campsite there without Winney’s permission. Morgan said the property was not posted. Over the summer, Morgan filmed YouTube videos of his wilderness camping near Kenyetto Creek and talked about saving the area from Winney’s RV park.
Winney declined to be photographed for this story, in part because he did not want to engage more with the “persistent and angry” people opposing his proposal, he said.
“I’m upset with my neighbors and the way they treat me,” he said.
He anticipated an upcoming planning board public hearing in December would turn into a “regular brawl.” Winney said he would listen to his neighbors’ concerns and do what he could to satisfy them if the concerns were real.
“We’re not going to bend over backwards for nonsense,” Winney said. “The planning board has brought up issues that I didn’t think of, that we have addressed. I think it’s basically going to be a wait and see.”
Winney is no stranger to the southern Adirondacks. He and his family own and operate the 130-lot Dun Loggin Campground on the eastern side of Great Sacandaga Lake. The family has been in the construction business for about three decades and operates several Subway sandwich shops in the area, too.
Winney’s plans at 3425 Woods Hollow Road include a variety of campsites — 213 for RVs, 32 for “glamping,” 19 for tents and 13 for primitive camping. Winney said he could have proposed a 700-lot campground on the property, but he wanted to preserve a rural and “quaint” feel.
Winney wants boat docks, a boat launch, a picnic area and space for an amphitheater. He proposes glamping, tent and primitive campsites in a more wooded area. Winney did not have many details on what the glamping sites would entail. He would like to see his daughter take over the campground once he retires.
“It’s a beautiful site, and I think it’s going to be a real plus for the community,” Winney said. “The lots are a little bit bigger and more spacious, and it’s a little more laid back.”
The Dun Loggin campground saw plenty of visitors in the past year, Winney said, as people looked for outdoor, safe activities during the coronavirus pandemic. He believes there’s an appetite for a second one on the lake.
His plans at Woods Hollow show a pie slice section of the project, about 30 acres, is within the Adirondack Park. It includes where Winney wants the main entrance and office, power transmission corridor, some of the glamping lots, a playground, a bathroom, parking, primitive camping spots, a pumphouse and drinking well, part of a recreational area and a handful of the RV spots.
The Adirondack Park Agency confirmed it will have some jurisdiction over the project, though Winney and his engineer have not yet submitted an application. The town of Mayfield planning board is the lead agency and still has to determine whether Winney will need an environmental impact statement.
That is something Braymer is calling on the planning board to require.
“It is a very large, concerning project in a currently undeveloped area of the lake,” Braymer said. “We would like the project to be denied, but in the meantime, we do think there should be an environmental impact statement done.”
The state Department of Environmental Conservation, Department of Health and the Hudson River-Black River Regulating District also need to sign off on the project. The district is a public benefit corporation in charge of regulating the flow of the Upper Hudson River and the Black River.
Winney is unfazed.“That goes with the territory,” he said. “It’s for everybody’s protection.”
Though there are regulatory hurdles before Winney’s project can get off the ground, Goossens, Kaplan and Morgan claim Winney is charging ahead and clearing the site.
When Morgan found out Winney was planning an RV park there, he grew upset about what it would mean for the wildlife in the area. Morgan said he approached Winney and offered to build him a native heritage park with primitive tent sites for all-year camping. Morgan said Winney declined.
“I’m not opposed to development, but it needs to be done responsibly and respectfully with the wildlife,” Morgan said. “He (Winney) doesn’t have respect, concern or any thought for the environment, the animals or locals.”
During his time camping, Morgan saw bald eagles, hawks, falcons and egrets. He wondered if disturbing the land would be violating the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act. He had also documented trees getting cleared and wood stacked up. Morgan said he contacted the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, concerned that bald eagle nests in the area might be impacted.
A spokesperson for USFWS said the enforcement department “cannot confirm that FWS (Fish and Wildlife Service) is investigating the matter at this time.” USFWS has guidelines for landowners concerning forestry, development and protection of bald eagle nests, but it is not a regulation or law, the spokesman added.
Goossens has seen logging trucks come and go from the property on the state Route 30 side.
“It seems there’s been more activity in the most recent months,” she said.
Winney told the Adirondack Explorer he was harvesting some of the pine from his property because the market is good. He is also in the process of reclaiming the site of the old mine. Meeting minutes from the September planning board read that Winney “hopes that the site work that is necessary to develop the RV Park can include work to reclaim the mining area.”’
Kaplan rode on a neighbor’s ATV to see where the trees were getting cut and took a video, which she shared with the Adirondack Explorer.
“I was speechless to see how much he had cut down, and to say all that is for the mining company, no way,” Kaplan said. “You’re clear-cutting in lines, and it’s nowhere near the sand pit where you’re digging.”
Braymer helped the two neighbors file a complaint with the APA. Even if Winney has a permit to cut trees for the mine and woodlot, Braymer said, he should not be cutting at the site of the project.
Records show the APA investigated the complaint by emailing Winney’s engineer, Travis Mitchell from Environmental Design Partnership. Mitchell wrote back that the tree cutting was for the mine and woodlot. It does not appear agency staff visited the site, and an APA spokesperson did not respond to an inquiry.
The Adirondack Explorer reviewed the APA and Mitchell’s communications after a records request.
“Agency staff review did not find that activities associated with undertaking the campground have occurred,” wrote John Burth, an environmental program specialist with the APA. “Accordingly, this file is now closed.”
“I don’t think they’re doing their job,” Kaplain said.
Working for Kaplan and Goossens, Andrew Millspaugh, vice president of Sterling Environmental Engineering, listed a number of issues with Winney’s proposal.
For one, a traffic study Mitchell included was done on a weekday morning in April and not during the traditional RV park season of Memorial Day weekend through mid-October. Millspaugh recommended a study to be done “during existing peak use of Woods Hollow Road.” Kaplan said she worries that additional traffic could impact the response time and accessibility of emergency service vehicles. A proposed entry point on Woods Hollow Road includes a hairpin turn that neighbors worry will cause congestion and problems.
Winney’s documents do not include a stormwater pollution prevention plan, an engineering report for each onsite wastewater treatment system or what kinds of structures would be part of the “glamping” units, Millspaugh also noted. He said the project will have a negative impact on the environment.
Comment letters from state agencies, too, show some holes. For example, the Hudson River-Black River Regulating District wrote to the planning board that the district would have to grant a commercial access permit to Great Sacandaga Lake. Some of the area proposed for the campground is where the district floods on occasion.
The planning board will hold a hearing at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, Dec. 15 at the Mayfield Town Hall.
Sean Geraghty, planning consultant for the Fulton County Planning Department, said he is organizing the meeting and making sure “no fights break out.” He expects the board will make a decision on site plan approval in January.
Geraghty said he understood neighbors’ concerns, but added that it was not realistic to think vacant land would always remain vacant.
“If your ultimate goal is to stop the project dead in its tracks, you may be disappointed. They have a right to use their land.”