RAY BROOK — State senators have unanimously approved a 10-year statute of limitations on Adirondack Park Agency enforcement actions.
An identical bill is moving through the New York State Assembly.
Sen. Betty Little (R-Queensbury) sponsored the measure, which limits how far back in time APA can go in pursuing violations of the APA Act, which went into effect in 1973.
Approved unanimously in a vote 59-0, Little said bipartisan support gives the legislation a lot of credibility and stature.
She expected it to go to the Assembly Rules Committee and said the fact that it has passed the Senate helps.
The step toward regulatory reform will allow landowners a modicum of comfort in purchasing property in the Adirondack Park.
"I think there are people who hesitate when they buy property in the Adirondacks," Little said. "They are often afraid that, just by calling attention to the APA, they may find something is wrong and cost them a lot of money to change.
"This would free people up to feel more comfortable and secure."
Similar legislation has been in Albany for several years.
"But I think that the Adirondack Park Regional Assessment Report shows the need for us to do some things that will help growth in the Adirondack Park," Little said.
"And, in many ways, this new legislation will help the APA, because they won't have to go back and review these violations."
APA enforcement statute of limitations is something the local government has fought for for more than 10 years, said Fred Monroe, chairman of the Local Government Review Board.
"Right now, APA can go back 37 years to 1973 and cite people with violations, sometimes dating to owners several pages back in the title. I think APA counsel even agrees; it's just unworkable the way it is now.
"The other problem this new law will help solve is that much of APA jurisdiction is based on counting lots sold since 1973. To do lot counting under APA regulation, you have to chase subdivisions, and it's a much more difficult title search.
"This new legislation still does not solve lot-counting problems, but at least removes the huge penalties on innocent purchasers.
"Without that, people are living in a state of fear: Are we gonna get hit with millions of dollars of fines? It causes a lot of animosity toward the agency. We really hope it passes the Assembly."
The law cites an enforcement case in the Town of Putnam, not far from Ticonderoga, where a family bought a home from a longtime owner and contacted APA about a property-line adjustment.
APA staff noticed a deck on the house built 30 years before and told the new owners they were in violation.
The family faced significant fines for a 10-by-10-foot deck they had not built.
Carol LaGrasse, a civil engineer and president of Property Rights Foundation of America, based in Stony Creek, said the new writ of law is improved over a previous version.
"This bill really takes away that gray cloud hanging over property owners' heads. In this version, statute is measured from the time that the violation would have occurred or else from the time a reasonable person would have discovered it."
Often, building codes dating to 1973 do not reflect APA regulations.
"This might smooth out property sales without people having to search back to 1973. It's an impracticality, at this point, to find all these old violations in any kind of systematic and fair way."
Setting a time frame for enforcement is common in matters of law.
"Rape, liable and slander, all different types of crime have statute of limitations, but not violations of the APA Act," LaGrasse said.
County legislators and boards of supervisors in Essex, Franklin, Hamilton and Washington counties supported the bill.
APA spokesman Keith McKeever said the agency does not comment on legislation.
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