APA approval of the Adirondack Club and Resort in Tupper Lake is an enormous victory for the entire North Country. And it will spare the agency from what would have been overwhelming and possibly crippling criticism.
Adirondack Park Agency commissioners last week gave their blessing to the plan to revive and greatly expand Big Tupper Ski Center after more than seven years of legal entanglements involving the developer, environmentalists who opposed the project and community members who supported it.
The 10-1 vote will allow 703 housing units to be built in 13 neighborhoods near the ski area — as long as the Department of Environmental Conservation permit and Industrial Development Agency bonding are secured.
It was a messy process over the years, with lead developer Michael Foxman doing battle in court and through the media with environmentalists who feared that the project — the biggest development ever in the Adirondack Park — would cause irrevocable harm to the environs in that scenic area.
ARISE, a group of local business and community leaders who coveted the prosperity they felt the project could bring to the community, joined the fray, portraying the environmental groups as trying to stymie economic benefits.
But the real issue boils down to the role of the APA itself: Is the Board of Commissioners there to protect the Adirondack Park to a degree that could be detrimental to the people who live and work there?
That has been the question since the agency was formed in 1973. From the start, the APA was seen as "outsiders" trying to tell people here what to do. Feelings were so strong over the years that violence sometimes erupted. Agency meetings held around the area turned into screaming matches as residents railed against what they felt were onerous and unnecessary restrictions. The board rejected several major developments that were seen as likely catalysts for the local economy, heightening tensions.
But the agency evolved over the decades, loosening up on its rigidity, amending regulations and aiding communities in creating land-use plans that enhance local control. The agency executive directors have become less strident, more willing to consider the people along with the plants.
None of that means the agency is becoming a subdued watchdog for our environment. The APA is still there to protect the trees and trails and other pieces of the natural tapestry. But agency leaders seem to realize now that the people of the North Country cherish our gift of nature just as much as they do. Everyone who lives here knows how important our environment is: in our lives and our economy.
The Adirondack Club and Resort will build on the Tupper Lake pathway started by the Wild Center. It will bring a necessary vibrancy to our economy. And it will give local people and visitors a new reason to fall in love with the stunning area that we call home.