Tupper embarks on class B jurisdiction journey again

TUPPER LAKE – It’s been 20 years and two months, and it’s time for Jim Ellis to try again.

Ellis was the driving force behind a more-than-a-decade-long effort for the town of Tupper Lake, then called Altamont, to take over class B jurisdiction from the state Adirondack Park Agency. And now he’s talking about starting the process again.

If a municipality has class B jurisdiction, someone who wants to build a development that is small enough (15 to 74 non-shoreline lots in areas classified for moderate-intensity use, 10 to 34 non-shoreline lots in low-intensity areas, and five to 19 non-shoreline lots in rural use areas) only has to get approval from the municipality, not the town and the APA.

Class B jurisdiction also generally applies to public buildings, municipal roads, marinas and campgrounds, unless there are wetlands or other critical environmental areas involved, according to APA spokesman Keith McKeever.

For a municipality to have class B jurisdiction, it must have approved local zoning, subdivision and sanitary codes that meet the building density and shoreline standards and other requirements of the APA Act. For that reason, the APA refers to a town with class B as one that has an agency-approved local land use program.

20 years ago

Starting in 1979, Ellis worked with others for 11 years putting together a zoning plan for Tupper Lake. When it was done, the town used it to apply to the APA to try to take over a significant amount of jurisdiction outside the town’s hamlet area, which roughly covers the village.

Ellis spent two years negotiating back and forth between the town and the APA. The APA board agreed to the plan in December 1992, and it was brought to the town board for approval with unanimous support from the planning board.

Some town board members were upset with it. Councilman Larry Cole said the plan came back from the agency “all torn apart,” and he accused the APA of using the plan to impose the recommendations from a controversial 1990 report called the Commission on the Adirondacks in the 21st Century.

Even so, the general public seemed to lean in favor of supporting the plan at a packed hearing in January 1993, with nine people speaking in favor of it and six speaking out against it.

But an outspoken group of citizens, including Larry Reandeau, were concerned that the town taking over class B jurisdiction would amount to the town getting into bed with the APA by enforcing its rules. At a time when anti-APA sentiment was high, people hoped to get rid of the agency and felt that working within its system would represent endorsing it. That would make it harder to get rid of the APA, they argued.

At a meeting in early March 1993, the town board voted 4-to-1 against transferring class B jurisdiction to the town. Board members debated the issue, but in the end, they said they had heard too much dissent from their constituents.

Jim LaValley, now known for heading up ARISE, was the only councilman to vote against rejecting the jurisdiction, calling it “a real tragedy.”

He had repeatedly argued to his fellow board members that even if there were problems with the plan, the town should take advantage of the chance to take any jurisdiction back from the APA. As a real estate agent, he argued that the developers he works with would always rather deal with one controlling entity than two.

After warning the town board he would do so, Ellis resigned from the planning board in protest the day after the decision.


Renewed effort

Ellis has been on and off the planning board since that resignation, with his most recent appointment in July 2010.

He has mentioned class B jurisdiction intermittently throughout his time on the board, but recently he has started to push the effort more seriously, asking town Planner Paul O’Leary to put it on the planning board’s April agenda and leading a discussion on it at the meeting last week.

Ellis said he worked closely on the town’s zoning plan with Jim Hotaling, who at that time was the chief planner for the APA. Ellis suggested having Hotaling, who is now retired and works out of Saranac Lake as an architect and development planner, come to Tupper Lake to talk about what it would take to again pursue class B jurisdiction.

“I think it’s a good thing,” said board Chairman Jim Larkin, who has been on the board since the original class B effort. “The thing to do, Jim, is probably get a hold of him and see if he can come to the next meeting and present the class B jurisdiction rules and stuff so that everybody understands, and then we’ve got time to think about it. It has pluses and minuses.”

Bob Collier, also an old-time planning board member, asked if the board would need to pay him as a consultant to talk about the issue.

“It’s not a question at this point of laying out money to get anything done,” Ellis said. “The question is what has to be done. And we’ve made that false start about two or three times in the past.”

Larkin suggested the board check with the APA to see if there is a staff member who could do the same thing.

“I really don’t care, but I just don’t want to see (the issue) dropped,” Ellis said. “I mean, we’ve been there so goddamned long.”

McKeever told the Enterprise the APA has agency staff available for consultation, but he said an independent consultant is also advisable.

Ellis said it might be quicker and more efficient to hire a consultant to help the board with the effort.

“If we’re going to rely on the APA, I’m going to tell you, we’re going to wait a long god-darned time,” Ellis said. “If this can be done for a reasonable amount of money, get this done.”

McKeever told the Enterprise the APA would need to review the proposed law to ensure it is consistent with the APA Act and meets the needs of the community.

Ellis said there are a number of projects anticipated in the wake of the large-scale Adirondack Club and Resort development, and things would be easier for those projects if developers only have to deal with the town.

Planning board attorney Kirk Gagnier said some of the town’s codes are more restrictive than the APA’s. He offered to find a memo he drew up for the town board.

The board agreed to move forward with finding out more about the process.