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The Legal Role of Economic Viability in the Adirondack Park

The Legal Role of Economic Viability in the Adirondack Park

In 1894, New York State voters adopted a proposal to keep state land in the Adirondack Park “forever wild.”[1] This status was largely unthreatened until 1959, when Interstate 87—which runs along the eastern side of the Adirondacks, from Albany and north to the Canadian border—was approved and constructed.[2] In reaction, the state legislature passed the Adirondack Park Agency Act.[3] The Act created the Adirondack Park Agency (APA), which consists of an eleven member board[4] and enabled the creation of two master plans: the State Land Master Plan and the Private Land Plan, which was essentially regional zoning for the whole park.[5]

Today, the economic outlook for many towns in the Adirondack Park is grim and many in the park blame the strict regulation of development.[6] The Town of Tupper Lake is a prime example.[7] Once a railroad hub of the Adirondacks, rich from the logging industry, [8] Tupper Lake is now threatened with ghost town status.[9]

Eager for economic stimulation, many in Tupper Lake quickly supported plans for the “Adirondack Club and Resort” (ACR).[10] In 2004, Michael Foxman, a retired real estate attorney from Philadelphia, and Tom Lawson, who has developed resorts in the Bahamas,[11] proposed a development that includes “Great Camps,” single family homes, town houses, a sixty-room hotel, restaurants, stores, a marina, and more.[12] Foxman and Lawson also planned to build a sixty-room inn, a clubhouse with a lounge, a grillroom, a spa/fitness club, and a gym with a basketball court.[13] They also proposed to build a space open for resort owners that included a swimming pool, spa, tennis courts, and a fitness club. A marina, comprised of a three-story building and forty boat slips, as well as a valet-service boat launching, an equestrian facility and recreation trails are also planned as amenities.[14]

Notably, the resort’s success hinges on the revitalization of Big Tupper, a medium-sized ski resort that was open from the 1960s to 2000, when it closed for bankruptcy.[15] The project sponsors plan to reopen Big Tupper as the centerpiece of the resort.[16]

However, many doubt the resort’s financing and long-term economic viability. Much of the early cash flow for the plan precariously hinges on the sale of the Great Camps, rustic homes reminiscent of the vacation complexes of Gilded Age robber barons.[17] These estates would range from nineteen to 770 acres, and from $100,000 to $5 million.[18] Adirondack real estate agents conveyed extreme doubt as to whether these lots will actually sell.[19] They felt ACR’s location in Tupper Lake—and not Lake Placid (and even then, the real estate agents expressed skepticism)—would be a barrier to sell the homes.[20] They also pointed out that most of the resort is not lakefront.[21] Second-home sales in the Adirondacks have been lagging behind the rest of the country.[22] As much as the people of Tupper Lake want to revive their economy, the town might not have the allure of more established, high-end resort towns, like Lake Placid.

Because of Tupper Lake’s lagging economy, ACR has become an incredibly political and polarizing project.[23] ACR offers hope to a dying town, but environmental groups such as the Adirondack Council and Adirondack Wild remain skeptical of the project.[24] In many ways, this conflict between year-round residents who struggle to make a living, and outsiders, who either visit as tourists or noisy conservationists, epitomizes the social conflict of the Adirondack Park since its formation.

This Note examines whether long-term economic viability should be a land-use consideration when a development project is located in the Adirondack State Park. First, this Note discussed the history of the Adirondack State Park (Park), highlighting the evolution of the Park’s unique struggle between private and public land use interests. Next, this Note describes the proposed ACR, its precarious financial viability, and its potential to impact local municipal infrastructure. Then, this Note discusses the APA’s legal regime, how it pertains to the ACR, and the legal standards the APA uses in reviewing projects. Following, this Note examines how the legal regime was applied to the ACR’s project application and whether the APA considered the project’s financial viability. Finally, this Note argues that the financial viability of a project is relevant to APA’s approval and that the law should be changed.  

Questions and inquiries regarding this Note may be forwarded to the author at LawReview@vermontlaw.edu.


[1] Richard A. Liroff & G. Gordon Davis, Protecting Open Space: Land Use Control in the Adirondack Park 8 (1981).

[2] Philip G. Terrie, Contested Terrain 102 (1999).

[3] History of the Adirondack Park, Adirondack Park Agency, http://apa.ny.gov/about_park/history.htm (last visited Apr. 19, 2015).

[4] N.Y. Exec. Law Adirondack Park Agency Act § 803 (McKinney 1971). The board consists of the commissioner of environmental conservation, the secretary of state, the commissioner of commerce and eight members appointed by the governor by and with the advice of the senate. Five members appointed by the governor are full-time Adirondack residents, and no more than five appointed members shall be of the same political party. Id.

[5] Terrie, supra note 2, at 168.

[6] Julie R. Sullivan, Book Review, 70 Cornell L. Rev. 361, 369 (1985).

[7] Lisa W. Foderaro, In the Adirondacks, Joy and Fear Over What a Resort May Bring, N.Y. Times (Feb. 8, 2012), http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/09/nyregion/in-struggling-tupper-lake-resort-project-creates-rift.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0.

[8] Jerry Jenkins, The Adirondack Atlas: A Geographic Portrait of the Adirondack Park 89 (2004).

[9] Foderaro, supra note 7.

[10] Id.

[11]Adirondack Club & Resort (ACR) Background, ADK Works, http://adkworks.com/the-acr-project/ (last visited Apr. 19, 2015).

[12] Foderaro, supra note 7.

[13] APA Project Findings & Order No. 2005-100.1-100.14 (2012), available at http://apa.ny.gov/.

[14] Id.

[15] Foderaro, supra note 7.

[16] Id.

[17] Brian Mann, Big Plans, Big Doubts, Adirondack Explorer (Apr. 21, 2011), http://www.adirondackexplorer.org/stories/big-plans-big-doubts.

[18] Id.

[19] Id.

[20] Id.

[21] Id.

[22] Id.

[23] Foderaro, supra note 7.

[24] Phil Brown, APA Approves Tupper Lake Resort, Adirondack Explorer (Jan. 20, 2012), http://www.adi rondackexplorer.org/outtakes/apa-approves-tupper-lake-resort.

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