November 11, 2021
Devan Korn
Project Review Officer
NYS Adirondack Park Agency
P.O. Box 99
Ray Brook, NY 12977

Re. APA Project 2021-0248, Stackman Large Scale Subdivision, Town of Jay

Dear Mr. Korn,
On behalf of Adirondack Wild, I submit our preliminary comments on the proposed Part 1 of Mr. Stackman’s large-scale subdivision application for up to 120 residential units on 350 acres, mostly classified as Low Intensity Use in Jay, Essex County.

General Comments: The Agency approved its Large-Scale Subdivision Application in 2018, the purpose of which “is intended to encourage the development of projects in compliance with the Agency’s review criteria, including protection of open space, wildlife, and habitat resources, and in accordance with the objectives of conservation design” (page 1 of the application). So far, Part 1 of the Stackman application fails to meet any of these criteria.

The applicant needs to sit down with Agency staff immediately to learn how his proposal could be better designed “in accordance with the objectives of conservation design.” The term conservation design or conservation development has been applied to a number of past APA project permits, including in its 2004 permit for the Persek subdivision (Project 2001-76) in Horicon in which the permit stated that the subdivision, as redesigned by the APA and the applicant, turned into a “model for conservation design of development, impact avoidance, and protection of large, contiguous tracts.” Another example is APA Project 2010-269, Highland Farmers LP subdivision in Keene, in which Agency staff explained efforts to determine the ecological impact zone of each of the six houses, driveways, lawns, etc. utilizing research models and findings or Drs. Michale Glennon and Heidi Kretser. Agency staff told the APA members in 2012 that the houses in the draft permit were clustered and their impacts overlapped sufficiently to avoid unnecessary spreading of negative impacts to species of specialized Adirondack birds and mammals known to be acutely sensitive to exurban development, defined by Drs. Glennon and Kretser as “low density, rural residential development on large lots outside of urban boundaries.”

Legislation pending in the NYS Legislature “in relation to preserving ecological integrity, wildlife and open space in the Adirondack Park” defines conservation development as “an approach to the design, construction and stewardship of development that achieves functional protection of natural resources, while providing social and economic benefits to human communities. It requires a process that ensures thorough analysis of ecological systems and environmental conditions before the developer actually designs the project. This saves the preparation of detailed subdivision plans, the most expensive part of design, to the end of the planning process. The process provides for smaller initial costs and allows for agency and public input before design funds are exhausted and ensures that the developer is not committed to a design that is not supported by ecological and environmental conditions.”

The applicant needs APA’s immediate guidance and education about conservation development objectives and strategies because his project description and accompanying graphic information in Part 1 pays scant attention to the APA application’s purpose. There appears to be:

  • no designated, mapped protection of open space;
  • no substantive information about wildlife or wildlife habitats, and;
  • no attempt to design or lay out the project in accordance with the objectives of conservation

Furthermore, the project description seeking to develop, in the applicant’s words, “townhouses, estates, villas and mansions” could severely cost the Town of Jay and Essex County a great deal in terms of extending all manner of public services to the subdivision, the costs of which might well exceed tax revenue, while further driving up the cost of housing for residents in the area.

As we elaborate below, Part 1 of the application is so severely deficient of information that the Agency should not consider it “received” until the deficiencies are corrected, and Part 1 information requested is actually provided.

Specific Comments: Part 1 of the APA’s application specifically requests that the applicant provide “maps depicting resources and existing features, a project narrative, and conceptual design drawings of the proposal and potential alternatives. The conceptual design of the proposed project should avoid impacts to the resources on and off the project site.”

The project narrative in Part 1 is mostly unhelpful to the Agency and to the public seeking information about existing natural resources. Other than the existence of wetlands and presence of the East Branch Ausable River, there is no information in the narrative about white-tailed deer overwintering habitats, significant avian species nesting areas, existence and location of vernal pools, habitat connectivity, presence of natural corridors, etc. Yet, data about these very resources are specifically requested on Page 8 of the APA’s Part 1 application.

Also, “areas of local scenic significance” and “areas of the site presently visible from public view locations,” both requested on page 8, are not shown, nor are aquifers or aquifer recharge areas or public watershed lands shown as requested. There are no bird species listings provided, as requested.

The large forest block information provided by The Nature Conservancy map suggests that the project area supports a locally important large forest block that extends from Ausable Forks to Upper Jay. The project as proposed appears to bisect and fragment this large forest block.

Site Analysis Mapping is Missing: On page 8 composite maps are requested “to identify areas most suitable for development, areas valuable for significant resources and open space, and areas with limitations to development (wetlands, slopes over 25 percent, lands within 100 feet of water features and wetlands, flood plains, etc.) through the use of overlay shadings.”

We cannot locate these maps or any analysis. Their absence further reflects the utter deficiency of resource information sent to the Agency in Part 1. Without composite maps reflecting adequate resource information, no conclusions can be drawn about actual or potential undue adverse impacts.

This is yet another reason why the Agency should not consider Part 1 “received” until the information requested is actually provided.

Conceptual Design Plans Are Deficient: Part 1 requests that the applicant “submit a to-scale sketch map of the project sponsor’s preferred project design that shows proposed building envelopes, driveways, roads, limits of clearing, and other areas of disturbance, and avoids impacts to any sensitive resources identified through the Resource and Existing Features Mapping and Inventory. The preferred project design should minimize the creation of new areas of disturbance on the project site to the greatest extent practicable and should concentrate development to the greatest extent practicable.” Sketch map alternatives “that have been considered as part of the design process” are also requested.

The concept sketches provided are only crude depictions. Limits of disturbance or other areas of disturbance are not shown. As mentioned, sensitive resources other than wetlands are not identified or mapped. Neither of the two maps describe how impacts have been minimized to any extent. In fact, other than in the type of residence the two alternative concept sketches appear virtually identical in terms of their overall layout, not the alternative design concepts requested by the Agency.

Far from concentrating development to the greatest extent practicable, the two concepts show a maze of development spread out into at least six pods and cul-de-sacs, some of which extend far into the project area and far from Rt. 9N, necessitating extensive new road development and other infrastructure, all of which pose significant potential adverse impacts on sensitive ecosystems, wildlife and downstream water quality.

What is depicted in both sketches appears as typical or conventional exurban subdivision, not conservation design of development requested by the APA’s application. The sketches provided do not and cannot show how impacts to resources are avoided for the simple reason that those resources are not adequately identified or mapped in the first place.

Conclusion: Part 1 of the application is substantively deficient both in resource descriptions, maps and analysis. Whole categories of information are missing. There are no composite maps. There is no attempt at conservation design of development. There is no dedicated open space shown. At present, the APA and the public are left to debate the absence of resource information, not the quality of that information. We conclude that Part 1 of the application should not be considered received by the APA until the requested information is provided.

Thank you for considering our preliminary comments.

David Gibson
Managing Partner, Adirondack Wild

Cc: Terry Martino, Executive Director
Rob Lore, Regulatory Programs
John Ernst, Chair
Basil Seggos, Commissioner, DEC
Kathy Hochul, Governor

Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve
P.O. Box 9247. Niskayuna. NY 12309