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APA faces multi-county lawsuit over new regulations

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Controversial regulations adopted by the Adirondack Park Agency late last year will have their day in court. Nine Adirondack counties as well as private property groups are challenging new rules that change the way the park agency regulates shoreline development and defines hunting and fishing cabins. Jacob Resneck reports.

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The APA was served with two separate lawsuits this week that seek to overturn regulations it passed back in November. Both suits allege that the park agency illegally expanded its own authority when it changed the way it takes jurisdiction over development in the Adirondack Park.

"They have rule-making capabilities as they are an administrative agency but they cannot legislate or make law and that's sort of what they're doing."

That's Essex County Attorney Daniel Manning, who represents one of nine counties that's suing.

The new rule that's gotten the most attention ends the practice of exempting pre-1973 buildings from most shoreline setbacks.

"Now you would not be able to increase the area of your residence sideways or backwards without a variance first which might be very difficult to obtain."

To get a variance, property owners will have to hold a hearing and then go before the APA's Board of Commissioners who meet in Ray Brook.

Proponents of the new rules say that in the past, developers have been able to tear down modest camps, replacing them with garish mansions that came right up to shore.

But others fear the added restrictions will affect property values and by extension a community's tax base.

Manning said that's one reason counties have agreed to band together and go to court.

"Essex County and the other counties involved are very concerned about this and we want to make sure that the revenue that's generated from the sale of these types of properties on shorelines - the real property taxes that we're able to obtain - is not going to be, you know, thwarted in any respect."

On a separate front, new definitions for hunting and fishing cabins has drawn fire from forestry owners who lease land to hunting clubs throughout the park.

These cabins had traditionally enjoyed immunity from most APA regulations.

But changes adopted in November prohibit any structure hooked up to a public utility from enjoying this exemption.

The Empire State Forestry Association - which represents private timber interests - agrees that the camps should be modest, said Kevin King, the association's president.

But he objects to language that says the cabins should only be used occasionally.

"It begins to put our members in a difficult scenario that they now have to create logs or keep other kinds of paperwork to track how frequently people are coming in and out. All of that seems inconsistent with what the law allows for around these structures and given that this use has been going on for such a long period of time and works extremely well for the landowner to provide the access - this clearly is a step beyond where we think the agency has jurisdiction."

Adirondack Park Agency spokesman Keith McKeever said the agency is consulting with the attorney general's office on how to move forward. He defended the shoreline regulations as necessary in protecting water quality.

"This is a matter that we feel strongly about. This is for protection of the water quality, that is what this is about. We certainly feel that we are within our legislative mandate."

The battle over these new regulations is creating bad blood between local governments and the park agency. Last month, a coalition of counties delivered a petition asking the APA to reconsider the new rules.

But the agency rejected the counties' request and then canceled this month's meeting because it said there were no "action items" to consider.

That's prompted Fred Monroe of the Adirondack Park's Local Government Review Board to complain to the governor.

"To say there were no action items when elected officials in five counties representing hundreds of thousands of people questioned an agency action and asked to be heard, I just think is not proper."

The park agency is required to respond to both lawsuits by March 6.

For North Country Public Radio, I'm Jacob Resneck.

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