WESTPORT - The Adirondack Park Agency and the town of Westport are working to correct a situation involving a property owner who they feel has violated development restrictions.
In 2005, George Guy Lever, the president of a private real-estate and corporate management company in Montreal, purchased an empty lakefront lot in Westport with the intent of building a house and other structures there.
The lot was part of the Starbuck Subdivision, a plan to separate three undeveloped lakefront
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properties along Furnace Point Lane. The plan was approved by the Westport Planning Board in 2004 and included specified footprints where future buildings could be constructed.
Though the reasons are unclear, the present absence of trees on Lever's lot as compared to just a few years ago is extremely visible, and has drawn the attention of both the town and the Adirondack Park Agency.
According to minutes from Westport Planning Board meetings, Lever claimed that an April 2007 mudslide not only brought down trees along the steep slope leading down to the lake, but also compromised part of the area where he was allowed to build. He has claimed that the work done on his lot was to remediate erosion problems.
"Mr. Lever has done no development of his lot," said Lever's attorney, John Privitera. "All he has done, at great expense, is to stabilize his lot since the first mudslide under a professional erosion control plan that was approved, and lauded, by all state and local authorities."
Lever submitted a proposed site plan to the planning board in October 2008 that included a house within the specified building envelope, as well as a garage, gazebo, and boat house elsewhere on the lot. None of the buildings have yet been built.
The APA has restrictions that prohibit the clearing of vegetation from more than 30 percent of a shoreline on a given lot or 30 percent of mature trees from within 35 feet of a shoreline during a 10-year period. The agency also prohibits cutting of trees in preparation for a project that has not yet been permitted.
A letter from acting APA enforcement director Mark Sengenberger issued on June 5 instructed Lever that his clear-cutting, excavation and construction of a retaining wall on the property were believed to be in violation of shoreline restrictions and inconsistent with the development approved by the town planning board.
The APA asked Lever to refrain from any further work on the property "until this matter has been resolved and the enforcement case concluded." It stressed that Lever should take appropriate action to ensure erosion control in the meantime.
"We sent a letter asking the property owner to stop his construction at this time," said APA spokesman Keith McKeever, "and he agreed to do so."
"This request was not necessary, as Mr. Lever has been compliant," said Privitera. "The request has surely been honored."
According to McKeever, Westport has the authority to issue permits for any Class B building projects because the town has an APA-approved local land use program. It also has a significant amount of jurisdiction in enforcing those permits, he said.
In this case, however, the town sought assistance from the APA in reviewing the site and making a determination for enforcement.
"The town board is of the opinion that the building permit issued by the town has been violated," said Westport Supervisor Daniel Connell.
A resolution passed at the June 9 Westport Town Board meeting said the board supports the APA "proceeding with enforcement action, if necessary, to rectify the violations involved with this project."
Though APA and town officials won't comment on just what they determine to be in violation on Lever's property, it's clear that some people are not pleased with what has occurred there.
"It certainly is the poster child on how not to develop a lakeside lot in the Adirondacks," said Keith Giles, who owns the property just east of Lever's and has taken exception to his use of the land.
Giles, who moved into his newly constructed home in 2006, said he and Lever started out as good neighbors.
"The falling out started when he began cutting all the vegetation off his lot," he said.
Lever has blamed development on Giles' property for the mudslide, but Giles claims the mudslide is a result of Lever's disturbance of the wooded bank. He provided the planning board with an engineer's report that supports his claim.
"My lot is lower than his," said Giles. "Drainage does not run uphill."
Giles stressed that he is not opposed to Lever building on the property, but felt the level of development there was out of bounds.
"It's his lot and he can do what he wants with it, but he has to do it in compliance with the law," said Giles. "If everybody stripped the shoreline like he did, nobody would want to come to Westport."