RAY BROOK - Right down to the wire.
With just over a week to go before the state Adirondack Park Agency begins its review of the largest development project its ever seen, Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Wednesday named a new chair to lead the agency's board.
Leilani "Lani" Crafts Ulrich, an Old Forge resident and an APA commissioner since November 2004, has been appointed as the agency's new chairwoman. She replaces Curt Stiles, who resigned as chairman this summer.
Lani Ulrich speaks in October in Lake Placid at a public forum on the future of the state Adirondack Park Agency.
(Enterprise photo — Peter Crowley)
Cuomo also announced the nomination of Sherman Craig, a retired teacher and school administrator who runs a furniture-making business in Wanakena, to Stiles' vacant commissioner's seat. Craig will be the first St. Lawrence County resident to serve on the agency board.
Cuomo, in a press release, said he was confident that the APA will "thrive under Lani and Sherman's leadership."
"Both Leilani and Sherman have dedicated their lives to the preservation and development of the Park," the governor said. "They recognize the need to balance economic development within the Adirondacks with constant environmental protections. I look forward to working with them to further the development and preservation of this extraordinary Park."
Ulrich's appointment isn't necessarily a surprise. She had been publicly suggested in recent weeks as a consensus candidate for the chair's position by local government leaders and environmentalists, in part because of her work with the Common Ground Alliance.
"She has the support of the environmentalists as well as local government and other people concerned about the economy," said state Sen. Betty Little Little. "I've always felt its important that the chairman be an in-the-Park commissioner, and she is. She really listens to people and tries to bring people to the table."
Little also noted that Ulrich is the first woman to chair the APA board.
Fellow APA commissioner Frank Mezzano said the governor couldn't have made a better choice.
"Lani has the ability to listen to everyone and treat everyone fairly," Mezzano said. "That's very important at this point in the agency's history. We need someone who can listen to everyone and be a good leader."
Brian Towers, president of the Adirondack Association of Towns and Villages, praised Ulrich for working to balance land preservation and open space with the need for growth and employment opportunities for the people who live in the Park. Towers also said Craig's "experience as a local businessman, whose furniture business utilizes local resources, is exactly the type of perspective needed on the APA board."
Environmentalists praised both appointments.
"We thought they were both strong candidates, and they were consensus candidates," said Adirondack Council spokesman John Sheehan. "Both we and local government thought they were good choices."
Sheehan said the Council hasn't agreed with every decision Ulrich has made during her tenure with the agency, but he described her as "somebody who takes a thoughtful look at all sides of an issue and tries to find somewhere in the middle."
In recent weeks, environmentalists and local government officials in the Park had called on Cuomo to name a new chairperson to lead the agency through its three-month review of the Adirondack Club and Resort project in Tupper Lake, scheduled to begin next week. Little said it was "critical" to have a chair in place to guide the review process.
Ulrich, in a prepared statement, said she will use her experience in finding common ground on land-use issues "to develop planning opportunities, as well as to fine-tune the regulatory process in ways that will empower communities and maximize the potential of the Park's land use while continuing to protect its world class natural resources. I thank Governor Cuomo for this exciting opportunity."
"I am pleased to be able to return to public service in New York, especially a position involving the Adirondack Park where I call home," Craig said in a prepared statement. "The Park offers an abundance of unique resources, many of which I use in my business and can be leveraged to develop the local economy. I look forward to working with the agency to help Governor Cuomo rebuild New York."
Since Ulrich is already a commissioner, her appointment doesn't require confirmation and she takes over as chair immediately. Craig would normally have had to wait until his nomination is confirmed by the state Senate to take his seat on the APA Board; however, Little said Craig will become a member immediately and the Senate will confirm him in January.
"There is a special process that the governor can enact, with the consent of the Senate, and we have the consent of the leader of the Senate, Dean Skelos," Little said.
There are four other positions on the board whose terms have expired. Commissioners Cecil Wray, Arthur Lussi, Bill Thomas and Mezzano can continue to serve until they are either reappointed or replaced.
Contact Chris Knight at 518-891-2600 ext. 24 or firstname.lastname@example.org.