This morning, as we begin our occasional series, Brian Mann talks with Phil Brown about the lead-off article that just appeared in the Explorer. Brown found broad agreement that more should be done to limit real estate development on private back country lands in the Park, both to protect wildlife and to protect the North Country's timber industry.
Phil Brown, editor of the Explorer Magazine, recently wrote an article that has raised a big question about open space in the park and what the right rules to protect it are. The park is about six million acres, and approximately half of that is private land. It is the issues surrounding the private land that interest Brown.
“It’s a question I’ve been interested in for some time: how much land do we need to save? You know, to protect open space and to protect wildlife habitat,” said Brown. “And the answer is, no one really knows. And that was one of the disturbing things I found out. We don’t really have a handle on how much land we ought to save.”
There won’t be real estate development on the state-owned park land. Rules were put in place about 40 years ago that zone and protect the private land from over-development. Brown said, “We’re talking about land that is either classified by the APA as either resource management, which is the most restrictive category, or rural use. These lands constitute more than half of the private land in the park. Together, with the forest preserve, they give the park its wild character. So when you’re driving around the park, you see a lot of private land.”
Much of this private land is timber lands. In his article, Brown calculated that, theoretically, an estimated 100,000 homes could be constructed on these lands in accordance to the rules currently in place. “One of the things I found out was that the APA doesn’t know how many homes can be built on these lands. They don’t keep track of that information. A lot of people think they should,” he said. “So what I did was calculate from some studies that had been done in the past.”
A lot of the land is protected by easements, but the APA doesn’t keep track of these statistics. Brown says that they don’t know how many acres resource management land are protected by easements, or how many acres of rural use lands are protected by easements. “Therefore it’s impossible to arrive at a precise figure: how many houses can be built on these back-country lands?” concluded Brown.
Over the last couple decades there have been housing booms in the park, but currently there isn’t a rush to build more homes. According to Brown, if the pace of development continues at the rate it’s happened over the past few decades, it could take three or four centuries for full build-out to occur. Brown said, “So people say there’s really no worry. On the other hand, significant ecological damage could take place long before full build-out.”
Some community leaders and people who are interested in developing the park’s economy want this private land to be used for real estate. Brown interviewed local residents to discover their perspectives on the question at hand and said, “Interestingly enough, local leaders like Fred Monroe of the Adirondack Park Local Government Review Board, and Brian Towers of the Adirondack Association of Towns and Villages, agree that timber lands that are now being logged ought to be protected, and they would like to see development occur closer to hamlets.”
Brown says that these local leaders are in favor of transferrable development rights. These would take away development rights from the back country and transfer them to more settled areas around hamlets. “Even within resource management and rural use lands, environmentalists think that there should be more clustering,” said Brown. “And they point to the Adirondack Club and Resort as an example of a development that does not use clustering, at least not to its utmost advantage.”
The APA needs to define what clustering is and come up with a clustering policy, says Brown. As he opens conversations about changing these zoning and development rules, he has found some interest in coming up with a transferrable development rights policy. This year, Betty Little’s bill passed the Senate but not the Assembly. Brown said, “The concept of transferrable development rights is something that Betty Little is on board with, local politicians are on board with, and it’s something that environmentalists support. I think it’s just the common ground between environmentalists and local leaders on the necessity to protect the back country.”
Local leaders see the proposed plan as being beneficial for the economy since it keeps forestry jobs in place. Brown said, “As far as developing a clustering policy, I think that would be a lot tougher.”