RAY BROOK - The state Adirondack Park Agency has approved a 13-lot subdivision on 1,300 acres bordering state wilderness land in the town of Keene.
The near unanimous approval of the Highlands Farmers LP project on Aug. 16 includes a condition that the owners of the two largest lots in the subdivision create open space protection plans before they develop the parcels any further. The subdivision's applicants - Lynne Detmer and her brother, Thomas Gardner - objected strongly to the condition, calling it unnecessary and "beyond the scope" of the agency's regulations.
The 1,300 acres is located off of Styles Brook Road and is bordered on the south by the Hurricane Mountain Wilderness, the Sentinel Range Wilderness to the west and the Jay Mountain Wilderness to the east. It includes the historic Highland Farm buildings and a landscape of mountain views that some have described as iconic.
The subdivision will create six residential building lots, all accessed off of Styles Brook Road, that average 14 acres in size and can have one single-family dwelling each. The other seven lots could house up to 21 buildings, but no new development is currently planned on those lots. All of the land involved in the project is designated resource management.
"No new land use or development is currently proposed on the backcountry portion of the property," APA planner Colleen Parker told the agency's Regulatory Programs Committee Thursday morning. "Approximately 788 acres of this backcountry portion constitutes proposed lots 10 and 12. This is in the area where staff believes there would be a benefit to having a plan for protection of open space resources. But with regard to the applicant's current plan for subdivision, they've located the proposed new development near the road and in areas where there's already impacts from existing development."
Much of the discussion surrounded a condition in the project's permit that says any new application for further subdivision or development on lots 10 or 12 "shall include an open space plan and implementation measures for the permanent protection of open space resources as appropriate."
APA attorney Paul Van Cott said those two lots make up almost 60 percent of the project site.
"The lots have steep slopes on them, there are streams and wetlands on these lots, and the proximity to state lands and the scenic quality of these lots are what led staff to our recommendation," he said. "We thought it was very important to have some open space planning done on those lots. We went back and forth with the applicant several times requesting that analysis be done, and the applicant declined to do the analysis."
Detmer and Gardner argued, in an Aug. 7 letter to the agency, that the condition requiring open space planning isn't needed. They said they have no intention of developing the two large lots "in the foreseeable future" and would need to get permits from the APA should they ever develop them.
"When all is said and done, our subdivision plan as submitted does protect the open space resources and complies with the APA regulations," the letter reads. "In our opinion, rather than imposing conditions that extend beyond the scope of the APA regulations, it would be more appropriate for staff and commissioners to request changes in the regulations themselves."
But Van Cott said the agency's guidelines for resource management lands call for protection of biological resources and open space on environmentally sensitive lands. He said staff had several options, including holding the application as incomplete until the open space planning is done or recommending a hearing on the application. Staff ultimately decided to recommend approval, with conditions.
"What we were trying to do is find some middle ground with the project sponsor," Van Cott said, "to respect the fact that they're good stewards of the land and to respect the fact that they have no foreseeable plans for development, but to also make sure that if and when they do come in, that an open space plan for that lot is part of what is in their application."
During the board discussion, most commissioners supported the agency staff's recommendation.
"I think it's an excellent example of incremental decision making," said Commissioner Sherman Craig. "They've crafted some plans, put restrictions on some lots, and a couple lots they'll get back to us on. I'm comfortable with this."
But Commissioner Richard Booth said an open space protection plan should be required for all of the lots that have building rights in the future, not just the two large lots. He proposed amendments, both at the committee level and when the project reached the full board later in the day, that would have made that change, but they were defeated each time.
The project was approved by the full board, keeping the language and conditions drafted by agency staff. Booth cast the lone "no" vote.