Update: With Big Tupper delays, plenty of blame to go around

Jess Collier, at the Adirondack Daily Enterprise,has written a fascinating (and in some ways much more informative) blog post about all this.  Check it out here.

If there’s one thing that all sides generally agree on with the Adirondack Park Agency’s review of the Big Tupper resort project, it’s the fact that the process has dragged on too long.  Seven years and counting feels like an eternity.

As the Glens Falls Post Star points out in an editorial today, a “Tupper Lake high school graduate in 2004, when the process started, has had time to earn a master’s degree in hydrologic sciences, get hired by the APA and review the project herself.”

There have been times when this issue has been a political football, with pro-development folks blasting APA officials and environmentalists for what they viewed as lengthy nit-picking and second-guessing.

Some accused green groups of trying to run out the clock, working to kill the project with endless delays.  Those cries resumed last week, when the green group Adirondack Wild pushed for more hearings before a decision is made.

But in conversations with people in Tupper Lake, and in the Post-Star’s editorial, I’ve seen a much more nuanced understanding of this problem begin to emerge.

The truth is that the developers, Michael Foxman and Tom Lawson, caused — or asked for — many of the delays.

Several supporters of the project have told me on background that they are critical of the developers’ decision to take the process into lengthy, closed-door mediation talks, a process that burned up months.

Mr. Foxman, meanwhile, has told me in no uncertain terms that with the housing market severely depressed, there are significant up-sides to this project being kept on the shelf so long.

But what’s good for the developers, or for green groups, or for state officials, isn’t necessarily good for the community, for the businesses and local workers in Tupper Lake waiting for some resolution.

The Post-Star wrestles with this issue in their editorial:

The agency needs to enforce time limits on the different phases of its review process, for all parties. Agency staff should not be allowed to endlessly extend reviews with requests for new and different information, nor should multiple delays by developers be tolerated.

Fixing the system won’t be easy.

But APA commissioners have already expressed an interest in reforming the process once the Adirondack Club and Resort decision is made January 20th.

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29 Responses to “Update: With Big Tupper delays, plenty of blame to go around”

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  1. Huh? What “nuance” did you see in this (or any other) Post-Star editorial? Their editorial position on anything related to the APA has always been that everything is the Agency’s fault.

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  2. “Everyone has had a chance to comment, rethink, amend their comments, reconsider, raise new questions, eat lunch, move to Alaska for a year or two and come back with fresh input…. Few developers can afford to wait eight years for an answer, and none should be expected to…”

    Not much nuance to my eyes. Certainly not the “both parties share blame” position you’re implying they’re taking.

    And by the way, the editorial was from Wednesday.

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  3. Tom says:

    Brian-MOFYC, right on the money. Brian-NCPR, 99% of the delays in this review process can be attributed directly to the so called developers. The APA will give them their permit in a few weeks with conditions which they will decry. We can all then sit back and watch as this pie in the sky project goes nowhere fast. They don’t have any money to get this thing off the ground, if they did have money they would pay their property, school, and income taxes. They have made a lot of promises over the years to a lot of people, now lets see them produce.

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  4. Paul says:

    I am a little confused about one point. I hear that the developers have not paid their property tax on these parcels. I also read that they have an “option” to purchase the property pending the outcome of these permit applications. Why are the developers responsible for taxes on land that they do not yet hold title to? Just curious how this “option” works?

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  5. Verplanck says:

    The post star sounds pissy. Why should a government agency force a private developer to push forward with a project? Sounds like government bean counters setting requirements that aren’t based in the real world to me.

    The developers, deep down, don’t care about the community. They care about turning a profit, first and foremost. if waiting several years will net them more profit, they will do it, as well they should.

    Maybe the community should take their destiny in their own hands, rather than wait for someone else.

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  6. Brian Mann says:

    If you read the Post-Star closely, I don’t think this interpretation is accurate at all. They actually say that to reach closure, the APA should simply vote, even if that means a No vote.

    Obviously, the Post-Star’s editorial policy is pro-development — that’s plain to see. But I think their treatment of this issue IS more nuanced than you folks are giving them credit for.

    –Brian, NCPR

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  7. Paul says:

    Once the permits are issued the developers will be obliged to exercise their option and pay for the property. You will see soon if they have any money and that will be before any shovels go in the ground so I don’t think there is much to worry about. No infrastructure will be built before the developers have to show that they have some serious financial backing. The town should go further and require considerable proof of collateral before approving any kind of PILOT program. There are safeguards that can be put in place.

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  8. Jess Collier says:

    Paul, the developers own part of the land, but not all of it. They own the parts that include the ski slope and the marina, which is the area they’ve had a hard time paying taxes on. They have an option to buy the rest, which is most of the area where they plan to put housing, once they get permits.

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  9. Paul says:

    Basically they are just saying that enough is enough. If that means voting it down because they do not have sufficient information than so be it. They are in a bit of a legal pinch since they didn’t ask for the information. Also since they would not require that kind of information for a project that was done the same way piecemeal they are again in a pinch when they look at precedent.

    The PS over the years has taken heat for the position that the agency needs change in the way it does business. Comments we are now seeing from many environmental groups seems to support that position. They were okay when it meant there was a good chance that the vague wording of the legislation (“undue adverse impact”) scared development out of some areas, but now when they see that it going the other way they are not so sure anymore. It sounds like everybody is looking for changes.

    Brain Mann calls that “pro-development” I think you could also call it “pro-clarity in the regulations”. If you need a wildlife survey for a big project like this tan have it as a requirement for the permit.

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  10. This is by far the largest development project in the Park since the creation of the APA with huge implications. Why should the APA vote on it before they have all the information they need to make an informed decision… and open themselves up to a lawsuit either way? It sounds like the process does need to be changed to allow the developers the ability to directly comment during hearings. But I don’t think a project with unanswered questions should get voted on just to get it out of the way. Because if I’m a commissioner and I’m forced to vote on a project with unanswered questions, I’m necessarily going to vote no. Is this what Foxman and the Post-Star want?

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  11. Walker says:

    Paul, as to the option/taxes question, I can only assume that the developers own some of the land, and have an option to buy the rest. Maybe someone who knows would chime in?

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  12. Verplanck says:

    Brian of NCPR,

    You give the post star more credit than it deserves. It would rather see a project they think is good rejected simply because the review process passes some arbitrary deadline for review, which isn’t even the fault of those damned environmentalists!

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  13. Steve says:

    Walker, The developers own the ski area, the old marina and a parcel around cranberry pond. These are the parcels they haven’t paid taxes on. They even bargained a special deal with Franklin County to repay the back taxes on a special program designed for people with financial or personal difficulties allowing them to make monthly payments. Of course they prompltly defaulted on that arrangement. Is this the kind of devleopers anyone needs or wants? The main investor, Foxman was the CEO of Sunrise S & L in FL that went belly up in the 80′s and cost the US taxpayers over 600 Million dollars to bail out.(Google Michael D Foxman) The other investor, Lawson has 3 federal tax liens against him for non payment of income tax from 07-09 totalling $538000. (go to Broward county FL website) They want/need a PILOT through franklin county to put in infrastructure totalling 36 Million, which I,m sure the county will be more than willing to give them seeing how they have done so well paying their taxes. If anyone thinks this scheme is going anywhere they are hallucinating. Look at the real estate market, you can’t sell prime waterfront, even in Lake Placid. Of course when it fails the developers will be quick to blame everyone else. Watch and see.

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  14. Walker says:

    Thanks, Steve. Reminds one of the old Chinese curse, “May you live in interesting times.”

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  15. Paul says:

    “They even bargained a special deal with Franklin County to repay the back taxes on a special program designed for people with financial or personal difficulties allowing them to make monthly payments. ”

    If you allow these kinds of loopholes people who want to hold their cash as long as possible are going to jump through. A smart business is one that holds cash as long as it can. That is all they are doing.

    On this land I assume they own it as some kind of corporation so the way things are going it makes perfect business sense to hold off as long as they can legally. I would also assume that this corporation is holding very few if any assets beyond the land that they have thus far purchased and that is probably just debt at this point.

    So like I said if the town (or whomever) wants to allow a PILOT they need to make sure there is sufficient collateral somewhere.

    Brian (the not NCPR one), again I am confused. If the developer cannot comment during the hearing how did the APA expect to get information on wildlife surveys that some claim should have come out in the process. If this is really the case than the agency should never had deemed the application complete without that information if they needed it???

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  16. Paul says:

    “It would rather see a project they think is good rejected simply because the review process passes some arbitrary deadline for review, which isn’t even the fault of those damned environmentalists!”

    These deadlines are not arbitrary and they have nothing to do with the applicant. They are as legally binding as any other law, and they were set up by the legislature when the act was passed. Perhaps they need to be changed? Also they have to make a decision one way or the other. It will not be rejected due to a deadline passing. It doesn’t work that way.

    “Because if I’m a commissioner and I’m forced to vote on a project with unanswered questions, I’m necessarily going to vote no. Is this what Foxman and the Post-Star want?”

    That is precisely what they are both want. They have said as much. If they have to vote no then vote no.

    I don’t understand why some environmental groups don’t want the same thing????

    They claim to support some kind of watered down version, why?

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  17. Brian Mann says:

    Be sure to check out Jess Collier’s blog post about all this at the Adirondack Daily Enterprise. Link at top of my post.

    –Brian, NCPR

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  18. Paul says:

    She has a good synopsis there of the time line.

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  19. Will Doolittle says:

    Brian MOFYC,
    It’s simplistic, I think, to say, if questions are unanswered, vote no. What questions? Who is asking them? Because more questions can always be asked. And you can always find someone who will argue those questions are relevant. All agencies must set deadlines, which will be, to some extent, arbitrary, just as laws are always, to some extent, arbitrary. Resources are limited, on all sides, so the line has to be drawn at some point. The agency has drawn the line and said the hearing process is over. Now the commissioners should make a decision on the merits, with the information they have. That’s what the editorial argues.

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  20. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    Maybe someone could compare the ACR project to the project in North Creek that received APA approval but hasn’t moved forward and the Mont Luzerne project that falls just outside APA jurisdiction?

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  21. Paul says:

    knuck, this is about whether they can TRY and make a go of it not whether they WILL. Given the market conditions right now they probably won’t, at least not till conditions improve. Just like many APA applicants never do a project they are permitted for the same could hold true here. They deserve a shot if the agency thinks a permit is warranted based on the law. If it is not the application should be and will be denied.

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  22. Bob Cat says:

    I would rather see it go back to adj hearing rather then a no vote. I know it’s been along time but it would allow the developer to do a proper Wildlife assesment. I don’t think there is any chance they commisioners could vote yes as is. Mr Foxman has speculated the delay could be in his favor as the housing market rebounds.

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  23. oa says:

    From a distance, it seems if the developer were just a regular guy like Paul and not a big-timer who was involved in the 80s S&L debacles, he’d have a tax lien on the property and a foreclosure auction. Doesn’t seem logical, but the developer must be a better person than all the little people, and gets different rules. So I totally think we should all accept that quietly and let him do whatever he wants for as long as it takes no matter what it costs.

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  24. Paul says:

    “I would rather see it go back to adj hearing rather then a no vote.”

    Is this really an option? I think they could also vote NO and then the applicant can appeal. The agency can say do a survey and get the agency the results than they can rule on the appeal based on that. Everyone gets what they want? Or are their objections beyond the survey? It sounds like there may be.

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  25. Bob Cat says:

    Yes it is an option. Isn’t that the point of the ADK Wild motion? (or did I miss something) They are asking the commisioners to return to Adjudicatory hearing phase so more information can be complied because the application is “deficient”, I think was the word. This would be better then a no vote.

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  26. Paul says:

    That is what ADK Wild would like sure but it is not a real option at this point. The agency would have had to say something right back when they started the 90 day clock. I don’t think they can do it now with a few weeks left just because ADK Wild is unsatisfied.

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  27. Mervel says:

    Is there an economic incentive for the developers to delay? Lets say they have no intention of ever developing anything and this is simply a play on land values?

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  28. Paul says:

    The delay thing doesn’t make too much sense. Once you have the permits there is no reason to begin construction right away. Not knowing if you can build does not help the value of the project as an asset. Even if this is a “play” on land values (and all real estate development projects are) having the permits in hand is much better than not knowing what will happen. I guess we find out in a few days.

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  29. “It’s simplistic, I think, to say, if questions are unanswered, vote no. What questions? Who is asking them?”

    I think that’s the only responsible position to take, for an agency where environmental factors are an explicit part of its mandate. What questions? That’s up to the APA commissioners. If they have no further questions and are satisfied that the project is fine, then they should vote yes. I’m not on the commission so I can’t speak for them.

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