TUPPER LAKE - The Adirondack Club and Resort came closer this year than ever to becoming a reality.
The end of 2011 will see the state Adirondack Park Agency review of the large-scale development project just two weeks away from what's expected to be a final decision on it.
Developers first proposed the project in 2004, but the APA review was stalled in 2007 as developers put the project's adjudicatory hearing on hold to try to negotiate a plan that would be acceptable to green groups that were contesting it.
Adirondack Park Agency staffers, from left, Matt Kendall and Rick Weber and APA commissioners Bill Valentino and Lani Ulrich walk at the front of a group of people touring the Adirondack Club and Resort property in September.
(Enterprise file photo — Jessica Collier)
The project would overhaul the Big Tupper Ski Area and build about 700 luxury residential units on and around the slopes, plus add various amenities like an equestrian center, a spa and a 60-room inn.
The adjudicatory hearing, take two, got under way in March, starting with a legislative hearing to which about 700 people showed up. Ninety-three people spoke, the vast majority in support of the project.
Following that, there were three groups of sessions, each lasting a week to two weeks, spread out over three months in the spring. The sessions covered about 12 issues with the project, most of which were ordered by the APA board, but some added or modified by the administrative law judge overseeing the proceeding. Discussion topics included the use of a state-owned boat launch by a resort boat taxi, the potential impact of the project on wildlife, and the potential economic effects of the project on municipalities.
Both critics and advocates of the resort presented witnesses. Environmentalists tried to poke holes in developers' assertions while the ACR team tried to show the project's benefits outweigh its potential environmental and economic costs. A team of APA hearing staff also presented witnesses and argued for as complete of a record as possible.
Protect the Adirondacks hammered heavily on developers' projected sales and fiscal responsibility, arguing that they inflated the numbers to show the project having more of an economic benefit to the region than developers are projecting.
Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve and the Adirondack Council presented witnesses who argued that there isn't enough information about wildlife in developers' application materials to make an informed decision.
At the end of the hearing, each party was allowed to submit a closing brief that made an argument to frame how the APA board should look at facts presented in the case. Then each party was allowed to write a reply brief to respond to other closing statements. The hearing record was officially closed on Oct. 26.
Meanwhile, developers got some good news in a dispute with the Adirondack Chapter of The Nature Conservancy over a right of way that would allow developers to access a 1,300-acre lot where they hope to have the largest of their "great camp" building lots.
In 2010, ACR developers filed to take a right of way across the conservancy's Follensby tract, arguing that it is the only way to reach the lot. That triggered a three-day trial in which a jury of 12 Tupper Lake residents voted 11-1 to award the ACR the right of way, along with rights to install utilities along the road.
The Nature Conservancy challenged that judgment, filing with the Franklin County Court to get it thrown out. TNC and ACR lawyers argued for and against throwing it out in front of Judge Robert Main Jr. in January.
Main took his time reviewing the case for about 10 months, issuing a decision at the end of November that upheld the ruling to give the ACR the right of way but ruling the jury shouldn't be allowed to award developers the right to install utilities.
Also in November, APA commissioners started a three-month-long process of reviewing the adjudicatory hearing record, which is the only information they're allowed to take into account when making a decision on the project.
Each month, the APA's regular meetings are being used almost entirely to focus on the project, with a group of staff called the Executive Team giving presentations to the board on each topic that was covered and helping commissioners find answers to their questions in the record.
In the November meeting, staff gave presentations organized by each of the issues covered in the hearing. Commissioners had a number of questions that couldn't immediately be answered, since the Executive Team isn't as familiar with the record as the hearing staff that compiled it. Therefore, all the questions were recorded, and staff took the time to research each question.
The December meeting began with presentations that answered questions on the topics commissioners had the most questions about. Then the Executive Team presented the draft permit and conditions that hearing staff put together and reworked several times throughout the hearing process.
At the next meeting, to be held in January, commissioners are expected to make a final decision. They can either approve the project, deny it, approve it with conditions or send it back to hearing.
If the APA board awards developers a permit, there will still be plenty of work to do, including getting approval from the state departments of Health and Environmental Conservation, as well as the Tupper Lake planning board.
Plus there are rumblings that environmental groups may sue, if the project is approved.
But optimism is running high in Tupper Lake among those who want to see the project happen.