By David Gibson
Something’s not right when the APA stops writing about open space protection in permits for Resource Management and Rural Use lands – precisely where the State Legislature places great emphasis on open space and resource protection.
The latest example is the draft permit now on the APA website authorizing 15 new residences on 590 acres in Resource Management overlooking the High Peaks, to be accessed off Route 73 near Adirondack Loj Road in North Elba. This subdivision (Barile, Project No. 2016-0114) is up for a vote by the APA Thursday.
In the draft permit for Barile’s North Elba subdivision, project impacts and some mitigation to limit impacts of the 15 new homes, driveways, and accessory buildings are listed for a lot of resources, including Visual, Wetlands, Habitat, Soils, Surface Waters, Groundwater, Invasive Species, Vegetation, Infrastructure, Historic Sites or Structures, and Nearby Land Uses.
But not open space protection.
Nowhere in the Barile permit is there any mention of the impact of the subdivision on “the open spaces that are essential and basic to the unique character of the park” (APA Act). Preserving this unique character and the active land management actions make it economically viable are at the heart of the 1973 Resource Management classification affecting 1.5 million acres in the Park.
It’s true that the residences, guest buildings, and driveways in this draft permit are proposed on 110 acres in the north end, and that the remaining 475 acres to the south on either side of North Meadow Brook are being left largely undeveloped. That’s good. But, the permit doesn’t state why that’s good.
Nor does it ask and answer key questions pertaining to Resource Management (RM). Could the 15 new residential lots be designed to be more compact, designed so that their impacts on open space resources and wildlife, impacts which extend far beyond the actual building footprint, overlapped with each other rather than spread across 110 acres? We don’t know.
Under the draft permit each residence ranges from 5 – 12 acres. Why couldn’t the agency insist on a generous 5 acres per lot maximum and save a lot of habitat? The permit doesn’t offer any information here either.
The permit allows up to an acre of each lot to be cleared of trees and another half-acre per lot to be cleared for “filtered views” of the High Peaks. Why so much tree cutting authorized?
Three field days were spent by an ecological consultant conducting natural resource inventories of birds, mammals, vegetative habitats, etc. Is that sufficient in the most protected private land classification? Of the habitats that were identified, were the values of those habitats to sensitive Adirondack wildlife properly assessed and was that information applied to the project layout? One learns nothing about any of this in the permit language.
Open space uses are primary, says the law. Residential purposes of RM lands are secondary. Resource management lands “are those lands where the need to protect, manage and enhance forest, agricultural, recreational and open space resources is of paramount importance because of overriding natural resource and public considerations. Open space uses, including forest management, agricultural and recreational activities, are found throughout these areas.”
In recent APA practice, residential uses in RM seem to have become primary and open space uses secondary without any change in the law. Much was argued and written about this at the contested Adirondack and Resort, but I don’t have to refer to the ACR to press this point. In 2015, a permit was written to New York Land and Lakes Development for 24 new residences on 1100 acres of Resource Management in Bleecker, Fulton County. As with the Draft Permit for Barile, no mention was made in that permit of open space uses and resources, and how the configuration of the subdivision would be protective of open space and resource management in compliance with the APA Act.
Yet, open space and resource protection considerations were a constant in past APA permits. In August, 2012 an APA permit for Highland Farmers, L.P. was written for a 13-lot subdivision in “green” in the Town of Keene. It granted six new principal buildings on RM, with potential for future development conditioned on “an Open Space Plan” being developed and “implementation measures for the permanent protection of open space resources as appropriate.” Under project impacts, that permit included a paragraph on Open Space which stated: “open space resources on proposed lots…will be permanently protected by deed covenants which prohibit the construction of any new principal buildings on those lots. Then comes this significant statement: “permanent protection of portions of Resource Management lands retained by the project sponsor is critical to a finding of compatibility of the proposed project…with the purposes, policies and objectives for such lands…in particular ‘to protect the delicate physical and biological resources’ and ‘to preserve the open spaces that are essential and basic to the unique character of the park.’”
If permanent protection of portions of RM lands retained by the applicant in Keene was “critical to a finding of compatibility of the proposed project” in 2012, why isn’t it just as critical for the applicant in North Elba in 2017? Particularly so because the Barile project is located in one of the most scenic and iconic locations in the Park.
Other past examples: In 2009, APA issued a permit for a 44-lot subdivision on over 8,000-acres at Brandreth Park, Long Lake, noting that: “Development related to all sections of the overall project is to be clustered within a 442 acre development area at the northern end of Brandreth Lake in the vicinity of a complex of 42 existing single family dwellings…” and that ““the project site represents a significant open space and ecological resource of the Adirondack Park surrounded by private open space and state-owned forest preserve. Nowhere in the Eastern United States do land resources exist in private holdings of comparable size and extent with the exception of Northern Maine.”
In June, 2006, APA issued a 29-lot subdivision permit for the Adirondack League Club in the Town of Webb, noting that: “the ALC’s long-term objective of preserving the open space character of its entire 35,000 acre landholding for open space recreational and forestry uses” was central to the agency finding that subdivision at one relatively small location on the northern end of the property would not conflict with the legislature’s Resource Management objectives.
Subdivision permits written for Persek in 2004 and for Diamond Sportsmen’s Club in 2002 also show how conscious the APA was concerning the purposes, policies and objectives of Resource Management. In Diamond Sportsmen, the permit noted the significance of keeping the property “in single ownership which will allow for long-term management of the site for hunting, fishing and other open space recreational uses while still allowing for forestry, wildlife management and natural resource protection.”
I could go further back in time, but I think readers get the point. APA permits for subdivisions in Resource Management should stop deferring to the applicant and start referring to the law and past precedent.
Permits should again start addressing why RM is important and what the permit is doing to protect open space resources.
Adirondack Wild is asking that a hearing be held concerning the Barile subdivision. Its reasons and the group’s objections to the current Draft Permit are here.
Will Adirondack Park Agency members simply rubber stamp the staff permit?
We’ll find out Thursday.
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