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APA to vote on unique, controversial subdivision

In a long, in-depth hearing on a controversial proposed subdivision development around Woodward Lake in Fulton County, the state Adirondack Park Agency board learned why APA employees believe they should approve the project.

The full board will vote on whether to approve this project or not in today’s meeting.

The subdivision would split up 1,169 acres of land to create 34 lots, 32 of which would become building sites for single-family dwellings.

This subdivision proposal is the first to get approval under the APA’s new large-scale subdivision application, which it revised in 2018. The area is split between Rural Use and Resource Management land use areas, the agency’s two most restrictive classifications.

Green advocacy groups have voiced concern about this project, while criticizing the APA board for allowing it to continue.

“The overall plan still doesn’t conserve open space or protect wildlife habitat and should be rejected,” Adirondack Council spokesperson John Sheehan wrote in the Adirondack Almanack.

“This project appears to be a textbook example of how to fragment and degrade an intact forest system,” Protect the Adirondacks Executive Director Peter Bauer wrote in a press release to APA review coordinator Ariel Lynch.

This is their main concern, the fragmenting of wild land and the impact that may have on wildlife.

Lynch, who presented the proposal to the board Thursday, said APA staff determined this subdivision will “parcelize” the land instead of “fragmenting” it. Parcelization, they said, is subdividing property from single to multiple owners. Fragmentation is converting portions of land to new uses. This project would take 630 acres of continuous forest and subdivide it between five owners.

There were six proposed layouts of the subdivision, each with a different assembly of lots, roads and wastewater treatment sites. Some grouped building sites more than others. The final proposal, No. 6, would spread the lots over space on both sides of the lake. APA staff recommended this one and the developers have said they like it as well.

There was discussion among board members over if grouping or spreading lots out would be better in this situation. Also, public comment letters were split on the various pros and cons of both methods.

The proposal

On the 1,169 acre property 36.9 acres would be developed with buildings and roads. Culverts and three bridges would be built on a new proposed road Woodward Lake Drive, to cross streams.

Each development “envelope” for a home would take up between 0.4 and 1.5 of an acre.

Lots 1 through 13 sit on the western side of the road; lots 14 through 21 are on the eastern, shoreline, side; and 12 lots sit on the east side of the lake. Lynch said this is well under the maximum number of potential buildings allowed under APA use guidelines.

The applicant would extinguish 37 remaining potential building sites, meaning they could not be used for further development or subdivision.

Staff recommendation

The APA staff’s analysis of the proposal determined the subdivision would have “no undue adverse impacts” if its conditions are met.

Lynch said staff recommended the sixth proposal because it avoids wetlands, overlaps with existing infrastructure, sets structures twice the needed distance from the lakeshore and “reduces overall forest degradation.”

Staff traced the travel routes of mammals in that area — deer, bears, foxes, coyotes and fishers — and said the sixth plan avoids their routes and would have “minimal impacts” to songbirds.

They also determined the project would have “no undue adverse impacts to rural character.”

Board questions

APA board member Andrea Hogan was concerned about surrounding the lake with housing, saying the late is a “stepping stone” for several bird populations. She also wondered if the staff researched the shallow lake’s potential for harmful algal blooms, adding that it is a “prime candidate.”

APA aquatic resources expert Leigh Walrath said the staff did not study this but put buffers in place to stop it and said blooms are “not a concern.”

APA board member John Ernst his problem with the project is building around a waterbody.

“We allowed a lot of development around lakes, and you can’t go back,” he said.

APA board member Art Lussi said he preferred this over clustering homes, because he said there is a lower chance of wastewater treatment failure draining waste into a lake when homes are spread out.

Ernst felt there are more chances of septic failures with individual properties on the lake.

Conditions

The conditions APA staff suggest include that developers do not further subdivide or construct dwellings, limiting development to the designated “envelopes.”

It also would not allow boathouses, and would put a limit on motorboats and dock locations.

It would restrict vegetation removal, limiting removal outside the “envelopes” to forestry and personal wood reasons. It would require low levels light pollution.

It would also require construction and design to prevent invasive species spread and require stormwater, erosion and sediment controls.

Other comment

The APA solicited public comment letters on the proposal, once in 2018 and twice in 2020. In total they received 37 letters from 27 unique senders, 32 of which opposed the project.

The state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation determined a cemetery should be avoided on several lots, but otherwise there would be “no impact on archeological or historic resources.”

The town of Northampton held a public hearing on the project, where three neighboring landowners voiced concerns about the water supply, access of roads and property values increasing because of the development. The town ended up approving the project.

Review of the project by the state Department of Environmental Conservation and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are pending.

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