Adirondack Park Agency Denial of a Variance Helps Protect Shoreline

Monday, April 13, 2015
By: Marin George - Adirondack Council's Conservation Fellow

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Photo © Carl Heilman II/Wild Visions, Inc.
Earlier this year, the Adirondack Park Agency's (APA) Board of Commissioners voted unanimously to protect a sensitive portion of the shoreline on Great Sacandaga Lake in the Town of Northampton in Fulton County.

The APA Commissioners approved staff recommendations, denying a variance to shoreline protection rules. The applicant sought a variance that would have allowed the expansion of an existing waterfront development. The APA staff cited, among other things, the existence of alternatives that might not have required a variance, and other natural resource limitations specific to the site. In protecting this section of lakefront, the APA was upholding the law and APA regulations.

The Adirondack Council submitted a letter in support of the staff recommendation, and applauded the APA action. After the recent approval of a much larger 1,100+ acre Woodworth Lake subdivision and development, the variance denial was welcome news. APA Commissioner Richard Booth stated that he didn’t recall the APA ever denying a variance request.

The APA staff reviewed the six requirements that must be met before granting a variance, and provided comments with regard to each. (Detail provided below.)

The discussion by the Commissioners illustrated their concern for the applicant’s desires. However, they were also respectful of and honored the law, regulations and the responsibility they have to protect the Adirondack Park.

It was implied that perhaps there were alternatives that might not involve as extensive a development that could be pursued by the applicant. Some properties are just too small or limited to accommodate larger scale projects.

The APA’s decision preserves the applicant’s right to seek a more modest variance in the future, and sends a signal that shoreline protection remains an important component of the APA’s conservation duties.

In a closing remark, Commissioner Richard Booth stated, “There are a lot of places where there are limitations on shorelines and we should make clear that any similar situations would be problematic.”

This was a small project on 0.06 of an acre. This was not a huge precedent or change in direction for the APA. What is important is that it was the right decision, protecting water quality and wildlife, while preserving the character of the surrounding neighborhood. The Adirondack Council appreciates the effort by the APA staff and Commissioners to protect this shoreline and to respect and honor the law and regulations.

APA’s detailed responses to the six variance requirements:

1.The application must request the minimum relief necessary.

The applicant said that the variance requested was the minimum necessary to meet their needs. However, APA staff concluded that the variance was substantial, and some of the applicant’s objectives could have been achieved through a lesser variance. The variance request was not the minimum necessary.

2. Granting the variance can’t create a substantial detriment to adjoining or nearby landowners.

APA staff determined that the proposed dwelling did not fit the neighborhood or open space character. Also, the proposed distance from the shoreline and vegetative screening was inadequate. Staff concluded that granting a variance would be a detriment to adjoining landowners.

3. The application can’t be approved if the difficulty can be resolved by a method other than a variance.

The APA staff concluded that there were alternatives that could expand the dwelling and would not require an APA variance. The applicant maintained that those options did not meet their objectives and that the town of Northampton had rejected the local variance needed for these alternatives. Nevertheless, APA staff concluded that the owners would not be denied reasonable use of their property.

4. In reviewing the application, the APA must consider the manner in which the difficulty arose.

APA staff assessed that the difficulty was the small size of the lot, and the applicant knew of these issues before purchasing the property, concluding that the difficulty was self-created

5. An application can’t be approved if granting the variance will adversely affect existing resources.

The staff concluded that granting the variance would adversely affect the aesthetic character of the shoreline and could impact adjacent regulated open space. Both lake and groundwater quality would also be at risk if the variance was granted.

6. An application can’t be approved if the imposition of conditions upon the granting of the variance will not minimize potential adverse effects.

While the applicants proposed to plant three trees to preserve shoreline aesthetics and character, APA staff concluded that it would take twenty years for those trees to grow and reach the height necessary to be effective. Also, there were no conditions that the APA could impose to effectively reduce the risk of wastewater system failure. Therefore, the staff concluded that adverse impacts could not be adequately mitigated through conditions.


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Uploaded Image: /vs-uploads/images/Marin_Headshot_small.jpgMarin is the Council’s inaugural Conservation Fellow. She has past experience working in wild lands, coupled with a Paul Smith’s College degree in Natural Resources Sustainability, Marin joins the Council with a profound interest in growing as a conservation professional. She will be working with Conservation Director, Rocci Aguirre, gaining exposure to the entire suite of environmental policy issues impacting the six million-acre Adirondack Park while focusing on the preservation of wilderness. Thanks to generous donors, Eugene and Emily Grant for making this position possible.

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