Court backs resort
TUPPER LAKE – Many storefronts on Park Street here are now adorned with new, brightly colored signs that read “5-0 Tupper Lake wins!”
Word spread quickly Thursday morning that five justices with the Appellate Division of the New York State Supreme Court had unanimously agreed to dismiss allegations made by Protect the Adirondacks, the Sierra Club and three local landowners. These plaintiffs had charged that the state Adirondack Park Agency board failed to complete or heed its own environmental impact studies when it voted in January 2012 to issue permits to ACR developers.
The dismissal upholds a lower court’s ruling against Protect, the environmental group that opposed the APA’s 2012 approval of the ACR.
Preserve Associates proposed the ACR project in 2004 and filed its plans with the APA eight years ago. These plans include rebuilding the Big Tupper Ski Area and constructing more than 650 housing units in the area, as well as a new marina, which has already begun on the former McDonald’s Marina site.
In a 15-page “opinion and judgement and order” document, the justices systematically disagreed with the plaintiffs’ arguments and wrote that the APA took the proper steps before approving the ACR project.
Among other things, the justices determined that “the construction of 80 single-family dwellings on the site’s resource management land-use area complies with the Adirondack Park Agency Act’s land use and development plan,” and that the proposed valet service to the nearby state-owned boat launch on state Route 30 would not adversely impact the facility.
The judges also determined that the plans show there would be no impact to wildlife or to the aesthetics of the area.
ACR developer Tom Lawson was in his Park Street office around noon Thursday. As people streamed in and out to congratulate him, he explained that construction on the project will begin as soon as permits are obtained from the APA, the state Department of Environmental Conservation and the Army Corps of Engineers. Applications for those permits have already been submitted, he said.
In the meantime, Lawson said people will immediately see changes happening to downtown Tupper Lake. He noted that several storefronts have recently been redone.
“We’ve not sat back, waiting for this to happen,” Lawson said. “We’ve been every day working with the architects and engineers, and people who want to open businesses here. We’ve been very proactive in moving forward. There’s going to be a big influx of money into the area.”
Lawson said ACR developers will use local contractors to build the resort. He said he expects the construction process will create up to 600 jobs.
Jim LaValley, real estate broker and chairman of the pro-ACR Adirondack Residents Intent on Saving Their Economy, told the Enterprise the next five years will be game changers for Tupper Lake.
“My hope is that the plaintiffs involved in the Article 78 (lawsuit) will allow the project to move forward with no further frivolous action on their part,” LaValley said. “Now it’s time for the community to start healing.”
LaValley said the ACR became a “whipping post” and said any groups concerned about the APA’s decision-making process should seek avenues that don’t impede development to change that.
“To be honest, I don’t see any future projects like this coming to the Adirondack Park,” LaValley said. “Any smart investor would look at what the investors of the Adirondack Club have gone through for the past 10 years and say, ‘My money is better spent elsewhere.'”
LaValley said business owners who contacted him were waiting for the court’s decision before moving their businesses to Tupper Lake. He wouldn’t give a number, but he said there are more interested than Tupper Lake has room for.
“Some are existing businesses located locally and around the state, and others are brand-new start-ups,” LaValley said. “We’ve also had some significant industry types poking around Tupper Lake because of the attention being brought about by the Adirondack Club and some of these proceedings. We’re just trying to put together some packages and incentives that would make it attractive for them to locate here.”
Other people in Tupper Lake shared LaValley and Lawson’s enthusiasm.
David Tomberlin, owner of Well Dressed Foods, said even though he expected the court to rule in favor of the APA, he wasn’t necessarily planning on it. He said his business is expanding and being moved to a larger storefront across from its current Park Street location.
“The whole business plan was put together assuming the ACR wasn’t going to happen,” Tomberlin said. “We expected it to happen, but we were being cautious. Now it’s just a huge, added bonus.”
Tomberlin said the ACR will transform Tupper Lake into a four-season destination and bring people in during the winter’s four-month business lull.
Tupper Lake resident Tim Littlefield agreed the resort will be good for local businesses. He said he grew up in Tupper Lake and has watched the downtown area slowly decline.
“These all used to be vibrant storefronts when I was a kid,” Littlefield said. “It’s only got one way to go now, and that’s up.”
Gov. Andrew Cuomo also applauded the court’s decision, calling it “sound” in a press release. APA Chairwoman Leilani Ulrich echoed that statement in another press release.
“Today’s ruling validates the Agency’s thorough and extensive review process which ensures responsible development with strong environmental protections,” Leilani wrote. “I applaud APA staff and the Agency Board for their professionalism and attention to detail. We believe this project will be a transformational economic development opportunity for Tupper Lake and the entire Adirondack Park. We now look forward to working with the community to bring this project to fruition.”
Not everyone was pleased with the court’s decision. Peter Bauer, executive director of Protect the Adirondacks, told the Enterprise the ruling sets a potentially dangerous precedent.
“This will clearly have an impact on how the APA goes about regulating development and resource management lands,” Bauer said. “That was our principal concern during this entire process, and many of the allegations in the lawsuit are focused on that.”
Those 29 allegations were outlined in a lengthy brief the plaintiffs submitted to the court for review. Bauer said he believes the court’s decision places a stamp of approval on loose regulatory processes that are based on minimal information.
Protect is currently assessing whether or not it will appeal the decision. It has 60 days to do that, and the appeal must be approved by the five Appellate Division justices to move to the Court of Appeals.
Bauer said having a conversation outside of court with APA representatives about amending the agency’s decision-making process would be a waste of time.
“We’ve found that trying to change APA rules and regulations is a dead end,” Bauer said. “There’s little appetite to look at the APA statute. We’d certainly pursue that, but there doesn’t seem to be great interest.”
Bauer called allegations that Protect is against people living in the Adirondacks “silly and demonstrably false.
“A lot of people tried to make this about the future of Tupper Lake, but for Protect, it isn’t about the future of Tupper Lake. It’s about the future of the Adirondack Park, specifically the future of resource management lands,” Bauer said. “Time will tell how all of this will pan out, but right now the agency’s ability to approve of projects like this has been upheld.”