RAY BROOK - Maybe it's the lagging economy, but construction in the Adirondacks seems to be slowing down, based on a declining number of permit applications submitted to the state Adirondack Park Agency.
Through the first six months of this year, 151 applications had been submitted to the agency, continuing a two-year downward trend. During the first six months of last year, the agency received 187 applications.
Each of the prior four years, application numbers surpassed 200 during the first half of the year. The agency received 219 applications during the first six months of 2010, 225 during the same period in 2009, 230 in 2008 and 216 in 207.
In the month of June 2012 alone, the APA received 19 applications. Compare that to June of 2011 and 2010, when the agency saw 35 and 36 applications, respectively.
The agency is on pace to see fewer than 300 applications this year, a level that hasn't been seen since the early 2000s before a boom in second home development. From 2004 through 2010, the total number of applications surpassed 400 each year. Last year about 350 applications were submitted.
The numbers have translated to fewer permits issued by the agency: 104 in the first six months of this year, compared to 158 at this point last year.
Speaking at last week's agency meeting in Ray Brook, Commissioner Frank Mezzano said the drop off appears to be substantial.
"As I read this graph, I think what I'm seeing is a fairly good decline in the number of applications and so forth," said Mezzano, who is chairman of the board's Regulatory Programs Committee.
APA Regulatory Programs Director Rick Weber said he agreed with that assessment of the trend.
"When you look at the total permits that were received in 2011, you can see that we're not at halfway (this year)," he said. "So we are off the mark, and there is less applications received."
Weber noted that a high number of pre-applications - advance work the agency does with a developer or property owner before they submit an application - isn't included in the numbers he provided to the board.
"That said, that may have some impact on that number but not explain the entire difference in the number," Weber said. "I think it's just a function of the economy at this time."
Commissioner Cecil Wray noted that fewer projects are being brought to the APA board for approval at its monthly meeting. Only one project was on the agenda for the board's one-day meeting Thursday; another was pulled at the last minute.
"My question is, is the proportion of them that come to the board decreasing?" Wray asked. "I've heard people wonder if staff was issuing more permits without going to board in an effort to - in the way that I heard it - an effort prompted by Albany to lighten up on the application process and not make people have to go to the board routinely."
"That's certainly not anything in the decision making that I'm aware of at all," Weber responded. "What I look at is, a lot of the applications we review and approve under my signature are two-lot subdivisions and projects that likely are not significant projects that rise to the level that would merit bringing before the board. They're relatively routine. What may also be a difference is the larger projects - there just aren't many happening, in part because of issues related to economy at this time."
Later in Thursday's meeting, the APA board approved an application from the town of Webb to construct a pedestrian-bicycle-cross-country-ski trail bridge over the Moose River and pave a section of the trail that follows an abandoned spur of the Remsen-Lake Placid Rail Corridor. It's the second phase of the 14-mile TOBIE trail, designed to link the communities of Thendara, Old Forge, Big Moose, Inlet and Eagle Bay.
The project that was pulled from the agenda was a 13-lot subdivision in the town of Keene proposed by Highland Farmers. Weber said the applicant wants to discuss proposed conditions in the draft permit with agency staff.