TUPPER LAKE - If Adirondack Club and Resort developers are allowed to take a right of way on Nature Conservancy property, the price the Conservancy is awarded could vary widely.
In arguments heard by the jury Wednesday, an appraiser for the ACR argued it should cost between $500 and $800. But Nature Conservancy appraisers found the Conservancy should be awarded hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages.
But first, a 12-person jury of Tupper Lake residents has to decide whether ACR developers can take the right of way on a logging road on the Conservancy's Follensby tract.
Michael Carr, right, executive director of The Nature Conservancy’s Adirondack Chapter, testifies Wednesday at the hearing at the Aaron Maddox Hall in Tupper Lake regarding a right of way on Nature Conservancy property.
(Enterprise photo — Jessica Collier)
Adirondack Club and Resort attorney Bob Sweeney discusses a map of the Nature Conservancy property while questioning Thomas Magee, an abstractor and title insurance agent from Pottersville, who testified at the hearing Wednesday.
(Enterprise photo — Jessica Collier)
The proposed right of way, currently used by logging trucks and hunting club members, would lead to a 1,281 acre area that ACR developers want to turn into a "great camp" lot, which they are calling the Moody Pond lot. Developers, who want to rebuild the Big Tupper Ski Area and build 651 luxury housing units and other amenities on the land around it, don't currently own the land, but are under contract to buy it if their permit with the Adirondack Park Agency is approved.
Attorneys finished calling witnesses to the stand Wednesday afternoon in the hearing that began Tuesday morning. Jurors planned to visit the site of the proposed right of way this morning. After that, lawyers for both sides were set to make their closing arguments, and the jury was expected to begin deliberation.
Appraisals vary widely
Lake Placid real estate appraiser and broker Terry Horrocks was enlisted by developers to appraise the land. He told the jury he believes the Conservancy should be paid between $500 and $800 in damages.
Horrocks said in his testimony that he didn't believe the Conservancy, if it were to sell its Follensby tract, would see that the land value has diminished at all.
"I think they'd be able to sell it for the same price," Horrocks said. "I don't think they'd take a hit."
But Wade Weathers, a real estate broker with LandVest, had a different opinion.
He didn't perform an appraisal of the property, but Michael Hart, a lead appraiser with his firm, did and found the number to be in the hundreds of thousands.
He said the fact that the Conservancy's neighbors want the land gives it value, so once it's taken, the Conservancy would be out that value.
Weathers also noted that the Conservancy would likely install gates around the right of way, which would hamper the buyer's entry experience.
"In my experience, any sort of outside influence on these great camp properties will scare off a few buyers," Weathers said.
The Conservancy arguments involved talk of if the organization were to try to sell the lot to a private buyer, but ACR attorney Bob Sweeney argued that assumption was irrelevant, since the nonprofit has documented intentions of selling the land to the state.
In order for the jury to allow ACR developers to take the right of way, Sweeney had to prove it was necessary for them to access the Moody Pond lot.
Sweeney had several witnesses, including Kevin Franke, an engineer from the LA Group who has been designing the project since its inception; Jim LaValley, a local real estate broker and head of the community action group Adirondack Residents Intent on Saving Their Economy; and Tom Lawson, one of the principal investors in the development. All testified that the right of way would be necessary to get to the lot.
Each said water access on the Raquette River would not be reasonable, especially, as LaValley said, if the people who bought the lot ended up liking the town so much that they decided to stay there full-time and send their children to school there.
Conservancy attorney James Cullum in his cross- examinations questioned witnesses as to whether developers had another right of way somewhere else that would give them access, meaning this particular crossing would be unnecessary, and all of the witnesses said they didn't know. Cullum alluded to conversations between developers and APA officials, as well as one draft of the APA application, that implied ACR developers believed they did have an existing right of way.
Cullum also noted that in one version of the APA application, the Moody Pond lot was left as open space, which he said shows that it's not necessary to the development. Sweeney countered that the application has been revised several times according to the wishes of environmental groups.
Deeds and previous rights of way
Cullum also called as a witness Thomas Magee, an abstractor and title insurance agent from Pottersville. Magee told the jury he had reviewed several deeds for the property, including one from 1914, one from 1916 and one from 1920, which showed that OWD had a right to crossing that land, plus documents alluding to a 1991 agreement over the land.
Magee testified that since there were no formal recordings from the 1991 agreement, the easements in the deeds were fuzzy and couldn't be relied on. He said any questions about a right of way onto the OWD land should be settled in the state Supreme Court.
"I don't see what the necessity is of being here," Magee said.
In his cross-examination, Sweeney countered that if Magee believed OWD, and therefore ACR developers, had a right to cross the road, Cullum perjured himself when he testified in state Supreme Court in June that developers had no right to cross the land, when developers tried to gain temporary access to the land while awaiting the hearing. Cullum said he and Magee just had a conversation about that in the last few weeks, and wasn't aware of it in June.
Contact Jessica Collier at 891-2600 ext. 25 or email@example.com.