RAY BROOK - The emotion in the room was palpable when state Adirondack Park Agency commissioners approved a permit for the Adirondack Club and Resort Friday morning.
After Executive Director Terry Martino announced the final vote count - 10 to 1 - a round of applause erupted from the many Tupper Lakers and local government representatives packed into the APA's board room.
As people started to make statements after the decision, there were also more than a few happy tears.
State Adirondack Park Agency Chairwoman Lani Ulrich shakes the hand of lead Adirondack Club and Resort developer Michael Foxman as APA Executive Director Terry Martino watches.
(Enterprise photo — Jessica Collier)
More than one person called the decision historic.
"I look at this as a historic moment," Gerald Delaney, chairman of the Local Government Review Board, said during a public comment session after the vote. "This is the largest project this agency has ever, ever had a party to give permits to."
THE ADIRONDACK CLUB AND RESORT, proposed by a Pennsylvania-based investment group called Preserve Associates, would overhaul the Big Tupper Ski Area in Tupper Lake and build out the land around it with about 700 luxury housing units and various amenities including an inn, a marina and an equestrian center. The state Adirondack Park Agency studied the project in a 19-day adjudicatory hearing last year, parties submitted closing and response briefs in the fall, and the hearing record was closed Oct. 26. The APA board just completed a three-month review of the project and approved it Friday.
Lead developer Michael Foxman said everything was as he hoped it would be.
He called the permit format APA staff eventually settled on - 14 linked permits for each section of the project rather than one large document for the entire thing - very clever. He said it would help give him the flexibility he has said he needs in order to have a successful project.
"They did it very well," Foxman said.
He disputed concerns many, including several commissioners, expressed about his sales estimates. He said no one has a crystal ball to know what prices will be in the future.
"You can't say how many houses have been sold in a high price range in Franklin County in any sense that makes it relevant, because there's never been any product like this offered in Franklin County," Foxman said.
He said a ring can be worth $5 or $5 million, depending on the quality of it and what it's made of.
Though there are a number of other permits the project needs, he feels good about the fact that the APA is the only really qualitative review, while the others are more quantitative, meaning based on specific criteria rather than judgment calls.
Foxman was focused while talking with the plethora of news reporters gathered in Ray Brook Friday, but after giving the Enterprise his final interview there, he teared up as he retreated into his group of fellow investors and friends.
Jeff Anthony, head of the LA Group which led the developers' planning team, was in tears at the end of the meeting.
"We were asked to do an incredible amount of research and homework and all kinds of studies, and it was good," Anthony said. "This was a very thoroughly done project on all people's parts."
He noted there is still plenty of work to do, as engineers still need to work up plans to submit to the DEC and several other agencies for permitting.
Thomas Ulasewicz, attorney for the project and a former APA chairman, said he is satisfied with the vote.
"I thought that it was well thought out for all the members," Ulasewicz said.
He said the most important outcome to him is that "Tupper Lake truly becomes a component of the Tri-Lakes area, both with recreational opportunities, economic development. And I think that's how the Adirondack Park Agency Act was intended to function."
He said he was surprised the vote got such a large majority, saying he went into this week thinking there might be three votes against it. But developer Tom Lawson said he was thinking the vote would be unanimously in favor of the project.
"I expected everyone to vote for it - I'm an optimist," Lawson said. "I know what we're going to do, and I think when it's all said and done, people are going to be happy."
Lawson said he plans to start working on several other businesses he hopes to encourage in Tupper Lake.
Several resort supporters spoke in the APA's public comment section after the decision was made.
Don Dew Jr. gave an emotional speech, sharing the same message communicated by many in Tupper Lake who believe the development will bring economic vitality back to the area.
"Because of the decision you folks made today, I feel I have some hope," Dew said.
Bill Farber, past president of the Adirondack Association of Towns and Villages, said the project will have an impact on the entire Adirondack Park.
He said the ACR can be used as a learning experience to make the permitting process more efficient and effective. But he said the process did work.
"You came out with a better permit, a better project at the end of the day, than what was submitted in the original application," Farber said. "Thank you. It's a bright day for the Adirondacks.
Tim Coughlin, who grew up in Malone and moved away, only recently moving back, said this decision will give kids like him the chance to stay in a hometown they love because there will be more opportunities for jobs and business.
Tupper Lake real estate broker Jim LaValley said he's looking at the decision as a springboard to getting started on other projects. He said there are people who have expressed interest in investing in Tupper Lake, and now he and his colleagues have to start working with those people to lock them down.
The Adirondack North Country Association and the Plattsburgh-North Country Chamber of Commerce both issued statements Friday afternoon supporting the APA's decision on the project.
While the project's supporters outnumbered the detractors Friday in Ray Brook, there were still people upset with the decision.
David Gibson, an environmental activist with Adirondack Wild, was visibly emotional, but not with the happiness apparent in the project's supporters.
"I don't think the agency distinguished itself today, and I don't think they upheld their law," Gibson said.
He said there needs to be more soul-searching at the agency.
"I don't think they're taking the necessary steps to really look at their law," Gibson said. "They've talked about it around this table - and I've been here for 25 years - many times about doing it differently. They haven't started that process. And to say we'll do it the next time and there are lessons to be learned, they've had seven years to prepare for this moment."
Gibson also wasn't as ready as everyone else to congratulate staff on a job well done.
"The staff presentations on the hearing record were not faithful to the record," Gibson said. "They were biased, and there were things that were highly selective. That's a problem."
His group is pleased that wildlife studies will be required through permit conditions, even though it will be after the fact.
Gibson and his partner Dan Plumley weren't willing to say whether they will file an Article 78 lawsuit, a challenge to the decision.
"We're not ready to discuss that," Plumley said.
Lorraine Duval, co-chair of Protect the Adirondacks, said her group hasn't decided whether to challenge the decision, but members planned a meeting for today to discuss it.
She said she was surprised by how different things felt from the hearings to decision day.
"It's like it's two different worlds," Duval said. "So much was brought out there in the hearings. Today was like a kumbaya kind of thing. It was like, 'Oh, isn't this great.' It's a celebration. But it was serious issues, that hopefully the conditions will help to take care of but that I'm not convinced that they have."
Opponents have 60 days to file a challenge.
Ulrich ended the formal meeting with a plea to people who were opposed to the project.
She said she hopes that all who are not happy with the decision "turn their energies to the healing that needs to take place and to the constructive suggestions about going forward and making processes even better to protect this place."
APA thanks staff
APA Executive Director Terry Martino and commissioners repeatedly thanked APA staff, who put a significant amount of work into the process. Ulrich said that with the leadership of Martino and the quality of the staff, she was never concerned about the work getting done, despite state budget cuts.
"Would it have been easier for us with 20 more staff? Absolutely," Ulrich said. "Will it be easier for us going forward? I think it's one of those things that I'm hoping we'll be able to get a lot of attention from Albany on, seeing how incredibly effectively this staff has performed. Now, going forward in the implementation of this, let's make sure these folks have the resources they need to do their job. And that's both for APA and DEC."
As the project moves into the enforcement phase, she said has no doubt the staff can make sure the resort is built as permitted.
Ulrich said she wants to look at every concern expressed about the review process and find a way to improve it. She said state Department of Environmental Conservation Designee Judy Drabicki did a good job of helping the board start thinking about how the APA can work more closely with DEC.
APA spokesman Keith McKeever said the agency is glad the decision process has come to an end.
"We believe we have a project that has environmental safeguards built in to ensure that the magnificent place we live in will remain intact," McKeever said. "And we're also very happy for Tupper Lake. Tupper Lakers have put out a tremendous effort to see this project through, and we're looking forward to the project being successful and having positive economic benefits for the community in Tupper."
McKeever repeated awe he expressed at a legislative hearing in March 2011 at the amount of rallying local people have done for the project.
"The attendance and passionate comments of Tupper Lakers at the public hearings was one of the most impressive events I've witnessed," McKeever said.
Paul Maroun, Tupper Lake village mayor and its representative on the Franklin County Legislature, said he understands the concerns with environmental impact, but he plans to ensure that those things are taken care of.
Maroun said as mayor, "I'll do everything I can to make sure the environmental issues are properly carried out."
He said the project will be one the North Country can be proud of, and he thinks naysayers will find things that they wanted will be incorporated in it.
"There's a long way to go," Maroun said, "but there's hope."
Congressman Bill Owens, a Democrat whose district includes Tupper Lake, said in a phone interview he's delighted for the people there.
"I think that the APA has done an excellent job of vetting the complex issues that they were faced with," Owens said. "These are always balancing acts, if you will, trying to make sure that we have economic development, and at the same time, make sure that we are protecting the environment. I'm comfortable that those goals have in fact been achieved through the hard work of the developer, the community and the APA."
Tupper Lake's representative in the state Senate, Betty Little, also told the Enterprise in a phone interview she was pleased.
"I know the staff and the commissioners on the APA have put a tremendous amount of time and energy into reviewing the permit," Little said. "And certainly, you can't say it wasn't a thorough review. They followed the law, and the outcome is positive. It's very, very important that in these difficult times with the economy that we balance the environmental protection and stewardship with the economic prosperity and job opportunities, and that's why I think that this is an important project for Tupper Lake."
Staff Writer Chris Morris contributed to this report.
Contact Jessica Collier at 518-891-2600 ext. 25 or firstname.lastname@example.org.