SARANAC LAKE - State Supreme Court Judge Robert Muller has ruled against nine counties and eight towns that attempted to overturn new state Adirondack Park Agency shoreline and wetland subdivision regulations, but he did rule in their favor on two other regulatory revisions.
The shoreline rules were part of a regulatory revision package the APA approved in 2008. The package affected subdivisions with wetlands, lots with roads through them, hunting cabins and the expansion of shoreline structures.
The towns and counties, including Essex and Franklin, filed the Article 78 lawsuit in January, and Muller rendered his decision Friday.
"We're extremely happy with the judge's decision on shoreline regulations and the wetlands," APA spokesman Keith McKeever said. "We see those as critical natural resources that need stronger protection, and the position the judge took will ensure that our new regulations will work to protect the Park's waterways and wetlands."
The changes were adopted late last year and went into effect Jan. 1.
The shoreline rules - which apply to structures built prior to 1973 - require variances from the APA for most additions that fall within shoreline setbacks, which range from 50 to 100 feet. Previously, changes to these buildings had been exempt from APA variances. Additions up to 250 square feet would continue to be exempt if they were made to a side not facing a shoreline.
Muller also upheld subdivision rules that would require that parcels have 200-foot buffers around wetlands.
The two APA rules that were repealed by Muller include the definition of a hunting cabin. Under the rules adopted in 2008, hunting cabins would be buildings without permanent foundations and would not be allowed to be hooked up to public utilities. The lawsuit will also allow property owners to subdivide a parcel with a road going through it - along the lines of the road - without getting an APA permit. The revised rule had given APA jurisdiction over the splitting of such lots.
For those involved in the lawsuit, the decision to repeal the hunting cabin and "natural subdivision" rules was a victory, but not the main objective.
"I don't think it's any secret that we thought the most important provision was the ability to expand pre-existing structures on the shorelines," said Fred Monroe, executive director of the Local Government Review Board, an APA watchdog group. "So that was a disappointment."
Those opposed to the shoreline regulations said they are too restrictive and will have a negative affect on the already ailing economy because they hurt the construction industry. The towns and counties claimed the APA didn't do a proper economic impact study before adopting the rules.
In the weeks leading up their adoption last fall, the rules also drew heavy criticism from local town and county governments who argued the revisions were an expansion of the APA's power and should go through the state Legislature. Monroe, state Sen. Betty Little (R-Queensbury), Assemblywoman Janet Duprey (R-Peru) and Assemblywoman Teresa Sayword (R-Willsboro) came out against the regulations in the days leading up to the vote.
It's too early to tell if the towns and counties will appeal Muller's decision on the shoreline rules.
"I think as far as the shoreline expansion rule is concerned we are studying exactly what the judge has said on that issue," said Dennis Phillips, a Glens Falls attorney representing the towns and counties. "Obviously we are dissatisfied with that element of the decision, but where we take it from here is going to be subject to study and review."
As for those people who have already put forth applications based on the repealed laws, McKeever said the APA would have to review that to see how to proceed.
"At this point we're reviewing the judge's decision, and we haven't decided what our next step will be regarding the hunting and fishing cabins and the subdivision by road regulation," McKeever said.
Contact Mike Lynch at 891-2600 ext. 28 or firstname.lastname@example.org.