ALBANY - The Adirondack Park Agency is proposing to tighten some of its development restrictions, and local government officials are fuming that the agency is improperly expanding its authority while threatening to throttle the regional economy.
The APA is considering a policy change that would mandate that all cases of expansion of existing waterfront homes would require APA site plan review and a variance, area government officials said Monday.
Presently, waterfront homes built prior to 1973 may be expanded without agency review if the expansion doesn't reduce the structure's distance to the waterfront. Expansion to the side and rear has been allowed without agency oversight.
But area government officials say such a policy change is substantial, and must be decided by the state Legislature and not by the agency's commissioners, Warren County Board of Supervisor's Chairman Fred Monroe said Monday.
This proposed change and other ever-tightening regulations of the Park Agency are hampering the ability for contractors to stay in business, and the construction industry is a mainstay of the region, Monroe said.
The proposed rule changes would effect thousands of existing structures that are near shorelines of 3,000 lakes and ponds in the Adirondacks as well as along about 31,000 miles of riverfront, Monroe said.
With the sagging economy crimping home contractors and hundreds of construction workers now laid off or unemployed, tighter restrictions aren't appropriate, Monroe said.
"If the APA adopts these policy changes and they don't routinely approve variances, it could be devastating to the construction industry here," he said. "Also, this policy change represents a huge jurisdictional grab because it's bypassing a vote of the state Legislature."
But APA spokesman Keith McKeever said Tuesday that the pending changes were not major, but were merely "clarifications of definitions."
"We needed to change language in the regulations that allowed inconsistencies," he said.
Homes built prior to the APA's founding in 1973, he said, could expand away from waterways without oversight while those built since 1973 were subject to Agency review.
"It puts all the projects on the same level," he said.
This and three other rule changes will be considered at the agency's monthly meeting Nov. 13, he said. The public comment period on these changes expired Oct. 23.
Monroe said he was also concerned about the Agency's decision to phase out float planes on Low's Lake.
Monroe met Monday with state Senator Betty Little (R-Queensbury) and Assemblywoman Teresa Sayward (R-Willsboro) to discuss these two issues.
Little said she was deeply concerned about both the Agency's new regulations as well as the float plane issue.
Little said late Monday she was recruiting other legislators to fight the policy changes and other recent initiatives by the Park Agency.
"When the economy in in such rough shape, the Agency isn't even considering economic issues when they're making these decisions," she said.
She also said the pending rule changes were a "power grab."
"Decisions like this should absolutely be handled by the state Legislature," she said. "I've talked to lawyers involved in Adirondack issues, and they agree."
Other state agencies adhere to their jurisdictional boundaries, and suggest "program bills" to the state legislators, she said.
"State agencies should not be creating new laws through changing policy regulations," she said. Little said she and other legislators were writing letters to the Governor and APA commissioners to back off.
If the requests are ignored, she said she's ready to introduce legislation to override the Agency policies and constrict or clarify the Agency's jurisdiction.
Little said she also was concerned about the phase-out of float planes on Low's Lake.
"APA commissioners have to respect other people's desires to get around the Park - it's not just for the healthy athletic person able to carry a canoe or kayak through the woods. "The Agency's becoming too selective on who can enjoy the Adirondacks."
Little also said she was concerned that the Agency was overlooking the health and sustainability of local economies.
"We have a declining population and there's increasing difficulty in keeping businesses open, she said.
On the float plane issue, former Warrensburg Supervisor Maynard Baker has asked county officials to donate $2,500 to help bankroll a lawsuit to retain float plane access. Baker said he intends to solicit similar funds from about a dozen other counties in the Adirondacks. Baker said last week that he has already received the support of the Essex County Board of Supervisors in his effort.