When John Hendrickson, the widow of recently deceased Saratoga civic and philanthropic leader Marylou Whitney, announced last July that the 36,000-acre Whitney Park lands were for sale an alarm was raised by advocates for wild lands concerned the sale would subdivide one of the largest privately held contiguous properties in the Adirondack Park.
Last week, Hendrickson said he will apply to the Adirondack Park Agency to do just that – fragment the tract into eleven estate lots for the uber-wealthy.
Now, six Adirondack Park advocacy organizations have written to NYS Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and NYS Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins asking they not to adjourn this year’s legislative session before passing a conservation development measure to preserve the ecological integrity and open space of the Adirondack Park.
In an announcement sent to the press, the six groups say they are making passage of the measure a top priority. Assembly bill 4074 (Assembly member Englebright et.al.) and Senate bill 1145 (Senator Kaminsky et. al.) would strengthen the require the Adirondack Park Agency (APA) to incorporate modern conservation development practices to curtail widely scattered exurban development, or “rural sprawl” in the Park.
Whitney Park in Long Lake has been a top priority of the State’s Open Space Conservation Plan since 1992. Whitney lands have 22 lakes and hundreds of streams and wetlands which connect the lakes. Hendrickson told the Times Union last week that he wants to convert 11 of those lakes into individual estates, introducing new roads, vehicles, utilities, lights, and pets throughout what is now the park’s most protected private land use classification, Resource Management, colored green on the APA land use map.
The pending legislation would require that the APA design such a subdivision to concentrate the new homes near existing roads and infrastructure while maintaining lakeshores, wetlands, and blocks of forest for wildlife and open space recreation intact.
“While large, the Adirondack Park is highly vulnerable to adverse changes due to land use and development,” said Protect the Adirondacks Executive Director Peter Bauer. “That is why fifty years ago, the State Legislature created the Adirondack Park Agency and its zoning plan. This legislation is the first significant, science-based conservation advancement in the APA’s legislation in 50 years.”
“Subdivision, development and fragmentation of a landscape like Whitney Park is precisely the kind of substantial threat to the Park that this legislation is intended to prevent or at least substantially mitigate,” said John Sheehan, Communications Director with the Adirondack Council.
“The bill would for the first time apply new scientific research showing that the location, spatial design and layout of large subdivisions is more important ecologically than the sheer number or density of new houses,” said Adirondack Wild’s managing partner David Gibson.
“The bill is directed squarely at the largest, commercial, speculative developments in the Adirondack Park, such as the proposed subdivision of Whitney Park, and will not affect small landowners or family operations.”
Advocates of the measure say the bill is flexible. It includes a variance provision and incentives for developers through a density bonus if they configure a development to maximize open space protection. There is also a transfer of development rights provision.
“The bill ensures early, rigorous analysis of environmental conditions before the Park’s largest applicants to the Adirondack Park Agency expend significant dollars on site engineering,” added Roger Downs, Conservation Director with the Sierra Club Atlantic Chapter.
“By requiring conceptual review of the largest developments, the bill will better protect Adirondack working forests, farms, natural resources and open space recreation while it minimizes infrastructure costs,” said Michael Barrett, Executive Director of the Adirondack Mountain Club.
The groups’ announcement says that the legislation was subject to extensive stakeholder meetings over a two-year period which resulted in changes to achieve consensus among environmental, local governmental and forest product representatives. Such a consensus is rare in the Adirondack Park.
In March, APA approved a sprawling, conventional subdivision that will ring private Woodward Lake and forest with 34 new second homes, with no public sewer or water. That developer refused to use conservation design principles. Now one of the state’s most iconic wild landscapes, Whitney Park, is also threatened with subdivision.
The legislation also includes climate mitigation benefits, say the groups. It requires that APA actively work with the largest developers to permanently set aside large, contiguous blocks of private working forest. Those private Adirondack forests sequester over a million tons of carbon each year.
Illustrations, from above Salmon Lake stands in the foreground, part of the Whitney tract, with Rock Lake and Little Tupper Lake in the background; and map of Whitney Park (Protect the Adirondacks).