TUPPER LAKE - Tupper Lakers are getting sick of waiting.
That was evident Wednesday night at a hearing on the first phase of the Adirondack Club and Resort development after the planning board put off making a decision on it.
About 75 people showed up to the train station for the hearing, but only two people spoke after ACR attorney Bob Sweeney explained what he is looking to get approved. Jim LaValley, a vocal ACR supporter, gave a typical speech for him, saying development group Preserve Associates has shown a willingness to invest in the community and noting that the project was approved a year ago by the state Adirondack Park Agency in a 10-1 vote.
People packed Tupper Lake’s train depot Wednesday night despite below-zero temperatures to show their support for the Adirondack Club and Resort project, and they expressed concern when the planning board delayed approving the first phase of the project.
(Enterprise photo — Jessica Collier)
"It is time to approve and move this forward," LaValley said.
Jim Facteau also spoke on behalf of his business and Tupper Lake United Teachers, the local teachers' union, reading a letter signed by union head Aggie Pelletieri.
Facteau said the number of taxpayers in the local school district is dwindling, and the state's cap on taxes has made educating students difficult. He said the ACR would increase the tax base, which would benefit the schools.
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 a spa, a marina and an equestrian center. The project received permits from the state Adirondack Park Agency on Jan. 20, 2012, after eight years of negotiating, reworking the application and an extensive adjudicatory hearing.
In March 2012, two environmental groups and three nearby landowners filed a lawsuit to challenge the APA's decision. That suit is working its way through state courts.
In addition to that, the project must also obtain a number of other approvals, including from the state departments of Environmental Conservation and Health, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the local town-village planning board.
The crowd broke into applause after both LaValley and Facteau spoke.
Afterward, planning board Chairman Jim Larkin said the developers just gave some information to the board earlier that day in response to a few questions it had. He said board members need a chance to read through the information before approving the first phase of the project.
That drew murmurs from the audience, and Stuart McCulloch said he's concerned.
"We thought that this was going to be an approval tonight," McCulloch said. "I just believe that there's concern in the community to see positive action. And, you know, it's a month here, a week here, another thing here. It just seems unbelievably ..."
"Neverending comes to mind." his wife, Charlene McCulloch, said. Larkin noted that the developers still have other things to do before they can start building or selling lots.
"You're not delaying this," said Jim Frenette Sr. "You're going through the process. It takes time to do it."
Frenette asked how an Article 78 lawsuit against the state and the ACR works into this. Many ACR supporters have blamed the plaintiffs for delaying the project's buildout.
"The Article 78, the litigation that was commenced by Protect the Adirondacks (and the Sierra Club and three landowners), is against the Adirondack Park Agency and the approval that was granted by that agency," Sweeney said. "They haven't tried to interfere with anything else or interfere with the planning board. The planning board and the other approval agencies are free to move ahead with the project while that lawsuit is playing itself out."
"In other words, you're full speed ahead now?" Frenette said.
"That's correct, yes," Sweeney said. "And this is us going full speed ahead."
Charlene McCulloch asked
"At what point do you say, 'I've got enough information?'" Charlene McCulloch said.
Larkin said the information the board got Wednesday should be the last it needs to make a decision soon.
"Do you think it's fair to the board members to ask them to vote without seeing all this information that has come in?" Larkin said.
Rickey Dattola asked how much information it is.
"I think that if it's not a lot of information, you can do it in a reasonable amount of time," Dattola said. "A lot of people came out. It's cold, nasty. We want a decision tonight."
"We just gave you a decision," Larkin said.
"We don't like that decision," Dattola responded to laughter from the crowd.
Charlene McCulloch said maybe the timing is a question for the developers, since they seemed to be asking for this current delay.
"You've got a town kind of growling behind you," she said. "It just worries me. We're all tired, and we're all frustrated, and you have a big responsibility. I fully understand that. I just want to make sure that I feel comfortable that you feel comfortable."
Planning board member Bob Collier noted that the "friendly" crowd at the hearing is not the only people paying attention to what happens with the development, implying that the environmental groups who sued over the APA approval are looking for other potential lawsuits in the approval process as well.
"There are lots of other eyes and ears that are watching it and listening to it, and we don't want to step on our weenies," Collier said.
Planning board member Jim Ellis said he felt like he wouldn't be doing his due diligence if he didn't read the documents before making a decision.
"I like to read the things that are given to me," Ellis said. "We want to see the darn thing done, too."
He noted that the questions the planning board had were practical things, like whether the roads are all wide enough to fit emergency vehicles on them.
Several people asked when the planning board will stop asking questions, and Larkin said again he thinks the information they received Wednesday will be sufficient to make a decision. He noted that the planning board has been working on the project for a long time.
Collier asked what other approvals Preserve Associates needs before it can start on phase 1. Sweeney said the two main ones are approval from the state attorney general's office for a road association, to improve an extension to Lake Simond Road, and from the state Department of Environmental Conservation. He said the developers are hoping all the approvals come together around the same time, but he said he didn't want to put a timeline on the process.
Sweeney told the Enterprise after the meeting that the DEC and AG applications are in his office and still being worked on. The planning board approval needs to be a part of the AG application, Sweeney said.
The DEC application has been in the works for years now, but there is engineering that needs to be done that may have changed based on what the APA approved and what the planning board approves.
"It has to be amended to reflect the final form of the project," Sweeney said.
Larkin said he hopes to have enough information to approve the first phase of the project at the board's regular meeting in February. The board normally meets on the fourth Wednesday of the month.
"It takes a lot of patience and a lot of understanding," Sweeney said.
"We're almost there," said Tom Lawson, one of the lead developers.
The first phase includes 3,200 acres and 22 lots, 18 of which are single-family homes with private water, sewer and roads. They are the large "great camp" lots on the east side of the project and range from 25 to 1,200 acres. There are two open-space lots in the first phase, plus one road and one access lot as well.
The planning board granted the entire project preliminary approval in 2010 but now must approve each phase individually as it is ready to be built.