A recent Adirondack Daily Enterprise article ("Developers commit to preserving extra acres," Oct. 28 issue) reports that Adirondack Club and Resort developers have agreed to leave most of the land on the 6,200-acre property as open space. According to the Adirondack Park Agency hearing staff, this is a "significant development."
It isn't. In fact, the ACR is one of the worst example of exurban sprawl ever to come before the APA. The hearing's testimony made clear how the ACR as designed would fragment and break up large blocks of forest land into smaller parcels, to the detriment of native wildlife, undermining the Park's land-use law and character.
The APA staff comments are very misleading because no development was slated for the so-called open-space lands. The developer had labeled it all open space when the project went to hearing. The only difference is that he has agreed to deed restrictions. The big problem with the ACR is that it proposes to fragment the backcountry into lots which, even if the actual building footprint occupies just a 3-acre area, imposes extensive ecological impacts far beyond the lot's buildings, roads, lawns and leach fields. This is "sprawl on steroids," according to Dr. Michael Klemens, a conservation biologist who testified at the hearing.
A key point is that the 3,885 acres of labeled open space is not contiguous. It doesn't exist in one block, or even two. It is scattered throughout the 6,200 acres, broken up by development subdivision, 15 miles of new roads, long driveways, utility lines and more. Hearing parties and APA staff repeatedly asked Mr. Foxman to assemble a large, contiguous block of resource management land far from the mountain for permanent protection through a conservation easement, which would allow the long tradition of Adirondack forestry, hunting and fishing to continue. He refused to do so. For their part, APA staff accepted a faulty application and then failed to require the applicant to focus on viable alternatives.
At the hearing, Drs. Glennon, Kretser and Klemens stated that the ecological footprint of the ACR is orders of magnitude larger than the development footprint. By this they meant that each new house in this largely undeveloped part of the Adirondacks has far-reaching direct and indirect impacts on native wildlife, plants and ecosystems. A senior APA natural resource professional testified that "the amount of wildlife habitat that would not be impacted by the project is considerably less than the amount of open space reported by the Project Sponsor."
Does this deed-restricted "open space" satisfy the law? Not by a long shot. Open space is just one of many legal criteria which the APA commissioners are obliged to follow. The APA law says that the purpose of resource management land is to protect "delicate physical and biological resources," encourage "proper and economic management of forest," and maintain "the unique character of the Park." Under APA regulations, a variety of wildlife habitats and vegetation types shown to be present on the ACR site must be considered by the commissioners. APA's guidelines for development contain admonitions to preserve core forests, minimize disturbances for road building, cluster development as much as possible and buffer habitats from adverse impacts. The ACR application badly fails all these tests.
If the APA commissioners approve of this fragmenting design, they will have abandoned their historical practice of protecting large tracts of resource management land and concentrating development in just a portion of it. They will cause the rest of the Park's undeveloped, working backcountry forest and its hunting, fishing and forestry traditions to hang perilously in the balance. Instead, APA commissioners should deny the ACR as proposed and steer the applicant toward a conservation, clustered project more in keeping with the character of the Adirondack Park and faithful to the APA Act, an alternative which might actually sell in a resort marketplace turned upside-down by the recession.