NORTH CREEK - In an effort to combat what they see as an improper power grab by the Adirondack Park Agency, seven area counties are initiating legal action against the Adirondack Park Agency. The action was announced Dec. 10 by the Adirondack Local Government Review Board, and officials said Monday they expect several other municipalities to join the legal fight in the near future.
Recently, the APA has passed regulatory changes that agency officials claim are merely reinterpretations of preexisting regulations. But local officials argue that the rule changes are far more than reinterpretations, and instead represent new regulations that circumvent the legislative process and are not in line with the original intent of the APA Act.
The rule change of greatest concern to local officials redefines the acceptable limits of expansion of structures on or near shorelines, officials said.
"Historically, the agency has allowed expansion of preexisting shoreline dwellings up, back and to the side," Warren County Attorney Paul Dusek said Thursday. "We believe that these actions are in direct violation of the intent of the APA Act."
Dusek said that the the regulatory changes would dramatically devalue property in the Adirondack Park and devastate municipal tax revenue, as well as curtail the construction industry, causing a loss of jobs.
At present, Warren, Washington, Franklin, Saratoga, Fulton, Essex and Hamilton Counties have jointly filed a petition for reconsideration to the agency, while Herkimer and Clinton Counties currently have pending resolutions which would include them also, according to Fred Monroe, chairman of the Warren County Board of Supervisors and Executive Director of the Review Board.
If enacted as currently drafted, property owners would be required to seek a variance through the APA before expanding a shoreline structure or updating an associated septic system.
Monroe said he was concerned about pending job losses.
"It seems extremely clear that this will have a significant impact on jobs," Monroe said. "The economy is collapsing nationally and this will only work to bring greater damage to the local economy."
Monroe said that the variance process is costly and extremely prohibitive for land owners.
In response to the claims of local agencies and officials, the APA Board of Commissioners introduced an amendment this week to the policy, which would allow expansions that would not exceed 250 square feet in any direction accept toward the shoreline, APA officials said.
"This move is not a prohibitive action - it simply is an attempt to set reasonable standards," said APA Commissioner Kurt Stiles. "Shorelines are the most important part of protecting water quality in the park - septic systems and development have the greatest impact on water quality."
Stiles said that the zoning regulations of hamlets within the Park are highly variable and lacking necessary consistency, with some allowing building projects that will damage the overall ecological health of the park.
"I do not agree that this measure is more restrictive overall - it is simply more user-friendly," Stiles said. "This is not something the agency dreamed up overnight in a dark closet - the intent is not to hurt people, it is to create a healthier park for everyone."
Stiles said that hamlets with an APA approved land-use plan would still be privy to home-rule privileges.
"We are just trying to make sure that the land parcel can accommodate the structure being built - we want the right structure on the right piece of land," Stiles said. "Property owners can still do the same type of building they always have as long as it is does not move closer to the water's edge - this protects towns in a way they can't protect themselves."
The shoreline setback regulatory change is part of a greater APA initiative which would also reinterpret the working definitions of wetlands, land divisions and hunting and fishing cabins, APA documents state.
"We believe that the original lawyers who drafted the original APA regulations had the greatest understanding of their intent," Dusek said.
If the petition fails to sway the agency, further legal action may be pursued by the counties, officials said.
"We are going to take the process step-by-step," Dusek said.