RAY BROOK - The state Adirondack Park Agency's latest attempt to revise the definition of the term boathouse in its regulations is heading back to the drawing board.
The APA board deadlocked, 5 to 5, Friday on a vote to approve a revised definition that would cap a boathouse at 1,200 square feet in size and 15 feet in height.
The board later agreed to reconsider that vote, but the net result was the same. A motion to increase the size limit to 1,500 square feet was put on the table, but was defeated 6-4, sending the issue back to the agency's Legal Affairs Committee for further review.
This boathouse, pictured in June of 2009, was built by state Adirondack Park Agency Chairman Curt Stiles on Upper Saranac Lake in 2007 and is 990 square feet, according to town of Harrietstown building department records. APA Commissioner Arthur Lussi referred to Stiles’ boathouse on Friday during a discussion of a proposed size limit on new boathouses in the Park.
(Town of Harrietstown Building Department photo)
Friday's complicated, and at times confusing debate, which briefly got personal, is just the latest of several attempts the agency has made since 1979 to clarify and define the word boathouse.
A prior rewrite in 2002 limited boathouses to one story with no bathroom or kitchen facilities, no heating systems and no living or sleeping quarters. But agency staff said the the lack of height or size limits led to the construction of boathouses with large attics used as recreational space or extensive rooftop decks.
Last year, agency staff proposed limiting boathouses to 900 square feet, 15 feet in height and outlawing flat roofs. At a series of public hearings in January, the proposal drew concern from those who said it would lead to "cookie-cutter" boathouses and was a de-facto cap on the number of boats a household can own.
APA commissioners raised some of the same issues at the agency's March meeting, and also questioned whether the agency could legally enact a limit on the size of boathouses.
APA staff brought a "compromise" proposal to the agency's Legal Affairs Committee on Thursday. While it kept the 15 foot height limit, the latest revision increased the maximum size limit to 1,200 square feet and eliminated the ban on flat roofs.
"We believe this provides reasonable accommodation for three to four boat slips, depending on the configuration, and a fair and consistent bright line to deal with," said APA counsel John Banta.
But Commissioner Cecil Wray said the agency was going too far in setting a size limit.
"I do not understand how the law justifies us in imposing a square footage limit on boathouses," he said.
Commissioner Frank Mezzano agreed.
"With boathouses being non-jurisdictional, to put a number on it is the part that I don't feel I can live with," he said.
Banta said the agency has imposed size limits before, including for non-jurisdictional structures like guest cottages, which are limited to 2,000 square feet.
"I would argue that this is precisely within the authority of the agency and is really our responsibility when there's ambiguity and inconsistency in the administration of the regulation," Banta said.
Commissioner James Townsend said the courts have recognized in prior zoning cases "that somewhere you need to put a number in."
"I think it's a fair size, it's fair to put a limit in and I think it will help folks design the structures for the storage of boats only," he said. "If it has a size limit to it, I'm pretty confident that what's going on inside is just boats and related storage."
Commissioner Art Lussi argued that it would be difficult to get a variance from the new regulations. He also said there's no way, based on conversations he's had with architects, that four boats will fit in a 1,200 square foot boathouse.
Commissioner Richard Booth thought 900 square feet was too large for a boathouse.
"I think we're going in the wrong direction here," Booth said. "We're creating a rule that, while it does have a limit on it, still allows very large structures on the shoreline with aesthetic impacts and water quality impacts."
The discussion moved to the full agency on Friday, but it was clear that no one had changed their opinion overnight.
Before the debate could end, however, Lussi took several parting shots at the agency and its staff.
"It's very hard when I have an agency and a staff who's pushing this agenda because it's creating so much work for them to interpret applications and proposals," Lussi said.
He also said it wasn't right for the agency to create new regulations, review them and be "the judge and jury" for applications.
"It's like being a dictatorship," he said. "It's not part of being a democracy the way we're doing this, and that's why I won't support it.
Lussi also targeted the 990-square-foot boathouse APA Chairman Curt Stiles built on Upper Saranac Lake in the town of Harrietstown.
"I find it very hard that our chairman would build a boathouse that doesn't fit what we're proposing," Lussi said. "I just don't get it."
Stiles received a variance from the town to build the two-slip boathouse in 2007, before he was appointed as the agency's chairman. The town issued a stop work order on the project in August of that year because, according to town building department records, Stiles started construction without a building permit. He subsequently filed a building permit application and was issued a permit a week later.
Stiles didn't respond directly to Lussi's criticism of his boathouse, but later said "I think we personalized this discussion to the point that it's deleterious to the outcome."
"We are perfectly within our right as an agency to establish these guidelines," Stiles said. "The need for a bright line is clear, not from a workload standpoint but from a confusion standpoint in terms of what the guidelines say and what is a boathouse."
Stiles also said the agency's variance process works. He said the agency has approved 72 percent of its variance applications over the last five years.
In the vote that followed those comments, however, commissioners and designees were evenly split on the 1,200 foot size limit. Stiles, Wray, Townsend, DEC designee Betsy Lowe and Department of State designee Riele Morgiewicz were in favor with Booth, Mezzano, Lussi, Commissioner Bill Thomas and Department of Economic Development designee Jim Fayle opposed. Commissioner Lani Ulrich was absent.
Commissioner Bill Thomas suggested the board take a prior recommendation from Lussi and increase the boathouse size limit to 1,500 square feet and the height limit to 18 feet, but that motion failed with Lowe, Thomas, Lussi and Morgiewicz in favor and the rest of the board members present opposed.
The proposal will now be sent back to the APA's Legal Affairs Committee for further review.
In a separate and less controversial vote, the agency adopted a new definition for the term "dock" that requires hoisted docks to remain parallel to the water during the winter months. A dock suspended in the air also has to be 100 square feet in size or less.
Contact Chris Knight at 891-2600 ext. 24 or email@example.com.