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Park Agency commissioners vote 10-to-1 to approve the massive resort. Photos: Brian Mann
Park Agency commissioners vote 10-to-1 to approve the massive resort. Photos: Brian Mann

In historic APA decision, commissioners downplay environmental risks

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On Friday, the Adirondack Park Agency voted to approve the largest project in the Park's modern history, giving the green light to a massive resort planned around the Big Tupper ski area.

Supporters hope the project will bring hundreds of jobs to the Adirondacks, and revitalize the economy of Tupper Lake. Hundreds of people gathered in the village Friday night to celebrate the historic decision.

Critics say developers haven't developed a realistic business plan for the resort. And they worry that hundreds of mansions and condos will create sprawl on the edge of one of the Park's biggest wilderness areas. Brian Mann has our story.

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Critics say it would fragment thousands of acres of habitat and timberland

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Brian Mann
Adirondack Bureau Chief

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The end of this long, controversial process began with Frank Mezzano, a commissioner from Indian Lake, calling for the Big Tupper permits to be approved.

One by one, commissioners voted in favor of the project, rejecting claims by some green groups that the project would have an undue adverse impact on the environment.

That's one legal standard for rejecting projects in the Adirondacks.

Jen McCormick sits on the APA board and represents the state Department of Economic Development.

"'Undue' is excessive or unjustifiable. I don't see that anywhere in this project," she said.

That view was echoed by commissioner Arthur Lussi from Lake Placid, who spoke about the great camp luxury mansions that the developers hope to build in an area of former timberland.

"I don't look at the great camps as sprawl. I look at them as giving an opportunity to a select number of people to enjoy and appreciate our park."

In the end, the vote was lopsided: ten to one, with only commissioner Richard Booth opposing the project.

"It spreads dozens of lots out over hundreds and hundreds of acres, miles of roads, miles of utilities, in a way that I think is unnecessary and unacceptible."

But the developers' final design won the support of commissioner Cecil Wray, viewed as one of the most pro-environment members of the board.

It also drew an endorsement from the Adirondack Council, the largest green group in the Park.

In the wake of the Friday’s vote, a group called ARISE that formed to support the project held a celebration in Tupper Lake. Jim LaValley is one of the group’s organizers.

"This has been an incredible effort. A vote of 10-to-1 today is I guess a strong vote of confidence for the community of Tupper Lake. So congratulations!" he said, drawing applause from a large crowd.

There are lingering questions about the developers’ ability to finance this massive project, which they say will employ more than 300 construction workers annually over the next decade and a half.

Those plans drew skepticism Friday from commissioners, including Arthur Lussi.

"You have thrown gargantuan sales estimates at us, with no substantiation," he complained.

The project faces some stiff headwinds, including a soft real estate market in the Adirondacks. But lead developer Michael Foxman says he thinks buyers will come forward looking to invest in his resort.

"First I think we're hitting the market at the right time. When people look at those numbers, they forget that some of those sales are thirteen years out."

Developer Tom Lawson also praised local residents for supporting and standing by the resort concept.

"It was so imperative and so important that the people of Tupper Lake were behind us from day one," Lawson said. "There were a few people against it, they're entitled to their opinion. Hopefully history will prove them wrong."

But this development has faced serious opposition in Tupper Lake. In an interview with North Country Public Radio last month, village Mayor Paul Maroun said it could take time to heal divisions in his community.

"I know that I've lost a lot of friends over my position on this. People that I grew up with. I'm going to really try to weave some of these friendships back," he said.

The developers still face some major hurdles. But after Friday’s historic vote, they say they will now move quickly to secure other needed permits, and to negotiate financing and tax agreements through the Franklin County Industrial Development Authority.

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