We're glad a state appeals court ruled Thursday to uphold the state Adirondack Park Agency's Jan. 20, 2012, decision to allow the Adirondack Club and Resort in Tupper Lake. The ACR deserves a chance, mostly because the community of Tupper Lake deserves a chance.
People here have been waiting for this for more than 10 years. During that decade, Tupper's economy and population have declined even more than in other Adirondack communities. It's encouraging that the resort's leaders have hung in there through thick and thin. This project will add jobs, reopen Big Tupper Ski Area and draw businesses to town.
Let's not be too starry-eyed, though. We're not confident the resort will single-handedly save Tupper Lake's economy, although it will help. Lead investor Michael Foxman promised in 2004 that the ACR would quadruple the local tax base, but people's expectations seem more modest now. Real estate brokers like Roby Politi of Lake Placid have said it's overly ambitious and unlikely to reach full buildout. We're optimistic, but cautiously so.
However, let's not have illusions about the plaintiffs' case, either. The ACR wouldn't do all that much environmental damage. Yes, of course it would affect its natural environment - any house does - but for a development with so many houses, the ACR could be much worse. Its waterfront impact would be minimal, and so would its high-elevation impact. The forest which would be cut up for "great camp" lots has already been logged for generations. And the whole thing is on the edge of a fully developed village, the second largest population center inside the Blue Line. The Adirondack Park is supposed to have its development clustered in and around existing communities, and the ACR is essentially clustered in the Moody neighborhood of Tupper Lake, right next to the local golf course and main highway. The pristine wilderness is behind it: the Follensby Pond property and the High Peaks Wilderness.
The root of Protect the Adirondacks' problem with the ACR has always been the spacing of its 80 great camp lots on land classified as "resource management." The group's leaders have said the houses would be too far apart to be properly clustered and too close for easy wildlife passage. They said that sets a bad precedent for the Park.
That's a legitimate point, but we don't think it rises to a critical level of environmental havoc, especially on land that's already had patchy clearance from logging. That zoning concern shouldn't outweigh the economic damage this lawsuit has done to Tupper Lake by holding off the only substantial job creator in town in a generation.
The APA has the legal authority to allow that kind of zoning, although not without a whole lot of trouble. The APA's decision came after almost six years of consideration and extensive hearings at which all sides were heard. It was painstaking for the board members. The appeals court validated that process unanimously Thursday.
We saw this lawsuit as part of the larger "Adirondack wars," to borrow a phrase from Bob Glennon, a former APA director and a lawyer for the plaintiffs. We don't believe, as some do, that these environmentalists are trying to wipe out humans from the Park, but they are on an ideological crusade for ever-stricter environmental protection. That's just where their priorities lie. How houses are spaced takes precedence for them over whether people have jobs, as Protect the Adirondacks Executive Director acknowledged to the Enterprise Thursday: "A lot of people tried to make this about the future of Tupper Lake, but for Protect, it isn't about the future of Tupper Lake. It's about the future of the Adirondack Park, specifically the future of resource management lands."
Although we side with Tupper Lake's economy in this case, environmentalists have done much good for the Adirondack Park, which is a zone specially designated for people to live in harmony with nature. It's a unique public-private patchwork, but that quilt's seams need mending after every battle of the "Adirondack wars."
Environmentalists have won more of those battles than they've lost in the past couple of generations: Acid rain's damage is being reversed, extirpated animals are coming back, all-terrain vehicles are severely restricted, and the state now owns almost half the Park as "forever wild" Forest Preserve. Those are good, but meanwhile, the latest Adirondack Park Regional Assessment reminds us that the people here keep getting older and fewer. It's too hard to get a good job here.
We hope the plaintiffs are ready to accept defeat on the ACR. It won't destroy the Adirondacks, and it does allow a chance for Tupper Lake to finally get something going.