Mike Fanning, the Foundation for Economic Education’s 1991 summer intern, continues his education as a political science major at Hillsdale College, Hillsdale, Michigan.
Ron Liccardi, the owner of Liccardi’s Family Restaurant in Keeseville, New York, had ambitious plans for his property. By filling in a portion of his 10 acres with stumps, brush, dirt, and other debris, he hoped to construct a driving range, develop a picnic area and campground, and expand his parking lot. The State of New York, however, had other plans for the small-town diner owner.
In July 1990, the state declared that Liccardi’s property contains wetlands. Claiming that development on his land would harm these wetlands, the state threatened him with a $2,500 civil penalty and a lawsuit should he persist with his plans. Yet the state’s wetlands assertion puzzles the businessman because his property is 600 feet away from and 100 feet higher than the Au Sable River that marks the rear boundary of his land. Indeed, the diner is situated on land higher than three-quarters of Keeseville.
Liccardi acknowledges that his land may contain a puddle or two, but points out two culverts that empty onto his “wetlands.” Liceardi says, “The Au Sable River is not known to overflow. The water on my land comes from the street drainage pipes installed by the state which turn my land into a ‘wetland’—a man-made wetland.”
Nonetheless, Liccardi, already facing $1,000 in legal fees, can’t afford the added expense of a lengthy lawsuit against the state. Consequently, he was compelled to level off and pull back the fill he already had deposited. He now sits on acres of unusable land. Liccardi says, “I can’t use, can’t touch, can’t even cut a tree on my property even though I pay taxes on it.” Discouraged and outraged, he has put his diner and land up for sale, well aware that state regulations have greatly reduced the market value of his property.
Bob C., a paraplegic, lives alone on his five-acre plot in a small hamlet located in northeastern New York, several miles shy of the Canadian border. To raise money to pay for a visiting aide, he decided to start a small enterprise. After securing state approval, Bob launched a used car business on his land. His business flourished for a dozen years.
Then a wealthy man bought 100 acres next to Bob’s property, built a road up a hill, and constructed a magnificent home. Yet, every time he drove up or down the road to his home, the wealthy neighbor passed the 10 or so cars parked on Bob’s lawn. The sight of these cars annoyed him, and he lodged a complaint with state officials.
The state dispatched an agent to investigate. The agent informed Bob that, despite government approval of his business 12 years ago, he must remove the cars from his property. Horrified at the prospect of losing his business and, ultimately, his land, Bob enlisted the help of a friend, and together they mounted an appeal.
The two men were elated when they won their first hearing. Two weeks later, however, they were stunned when state officials abruptly changed their mind. The men then prepared another appeal. Again, state officials vacillated. Although Bob has prevailed in protecting his property rights (at least for now), he came perilously close to ruin, even though he had not violated any laws. He had merely offended the aesthetic tastes of a neighbor who moved in 12 years after Bob had started his used-car business.
Jim Hemus retired from the vending machine business, eagerly anticipating subdividing a portion of his 31- acre spread. The retiree’s rural Willsboro, New York, property is traversed by an 80-foot-wide wetland. Even though he, like Ron Liccardi, pays taxes year after year on his land, Hemus is unable to improve, much less subdivide the 25 acres of his property that lie beyond the wetland because state officials won’t give him permission to build an access across the marsh. Exasperated, Hemus exclaims, “They have regulated to the point where we can’t use our own property!”
These three men are subject to extraordinary government regulations because they are inholders in New York’s Adirondack State Park. Inholders, a term coined by the federal government, are “those who own property or any ‘equity interest’ within the boundaries of Federal or state managed areas, or who are impacted by the management or regulation of such areas.” The National Inholders Association of Battle Ground, Washington, lists four criteria: “You’re an inholder if  you own a home, property, easement or other partial interest in property in any [Federal or state-managed] area . . .  you own a mining claim, grazing right, have a permit for a residence or other use, or a permit for access to any of the above uses . . .  you have a permit to do business—a lodge, trail fides, river rafting, or outfitting, for example . . .  you own property adjacent to, or proposed for inclusion in, a Federal or state-managed area.”
The experiences of Ron Liccardi, Bob C., and Jim Hemus are evidence of a 19-year assault by the State of New York on the private property fights of Adirondack inholders. It is an attack orchestrated primarily by New York State’s Adirondack Park Agency, disguised by environmentalism. It is a story of oppressive statism, repeated against inholders across the United States, depriving Americans of their liberties and property rights.
Private Property Regulations
Two-and-a-half times the size of Yellowstone National Park, and encompassing more land than the states of Rhode Island, Delaware, Connecticut, Hawaii, New Jersey, Massachusetts, or New Hampshire, the 6,000,000- acre Adirondack State Park in northeastern New York is the largest wilderness area east of the Mississippi River. It boasts 2,800 lakes and ponds, 1,200 miles of rivers, 30,000 miles of brooks and streams, and 42 moun tain peaks rising more than 4,000 feet, topped by Mount Marcy at 5,344 feet.
The state park is unlike many national parks in that New York State owns only 42 percent of the land inside the park, while private citizens own the remainder. The park contains 93 towns and 17 villages. In 1885 the New York State Legislature designated the state-owned lands within the park as the “Forest Preserve”: “The lands now or hereafter constituting the Forest Preserve shall be forever kept as wild forest lands. They shall not be sold, nor shall they be leased or taken by any person or corporation, public or private.”
Since 1892, a “Blue Line” has delineated the Adirondack State Park on maps, and includes within its boundaries a patchwork of public and private lands. According to the Adirondack Park Agency, “During the last 100 years, numerous purchases have increased the Forest Preserve from the original 681,374 acres to its present 2.6 million acres. The Blue Line, originally encompassing 2.8 million acres, now encircles nearly six million acres.”
The 1,300-member Adirondack Fairness Coalition notes, “Although the state of New York owns nearly half the land and water within the Adirondacks, the remainder is private land that includes 70,000 structures, 3,000 miles of roads, and more than 130,000 permanent inhabitants.” These private lands, however, are strictly regulated by a New York State land use law, administered by the state-appointed Adirondack Park Agency (APA). So strict are these regulations, in fact, that one is hard pressed to distinguish private from public land; private land within the Blue Line is seemingly private in name only.
The outgrowth of a 1968 study commission assembled by Governor Nelson Rockefeller, the APA emerged in 1973 from “a comprehensive plan for the vast, under-populated region of the Adirondacks. The plan aimed at preserving the unique characteristics of the region with a pattern of mixed public and private land ownership with state-level guidance of development,” according to the June 1991 issue of the Land Rights Letter.
Although there was some opposition to the Adirondack Park Agency Act and the Land Use and Development Plan in 1973, “Little did Adirondackers realize how this legislation would affect their lives and affect everything they do on their property,” observes Andrew Halloran, an Olmstedville, New York, attorney and vice chairman of the Adirondack Fairness Coalition.
Since 1973, the APA has imposed thousands of zoning regulations. The APA Act and the Land Use and Development Plan zoned all private property into one of six land use categories: hamlet, industrial, moderate intensity, low intensity, rural use, and resource management. These categories “allow subdivision and construction up to certain densities in different kinds of settings,” according to the Commission on the Adirondacks in the Twenty-First Century, appointed by New York Governor Mario Cuomo in January 1989 to develop recommendations for the park’s future.
The zoning legislation allows inholders to construct one structure per 1.3 and 3.2 acres respectively on “moderate use” and “low intensity use” property. In the “open space” zoning categories, one principal building per 8.5 acres is permitted on “rural” designated land, and one building per 42.7 acres is allowed on “resource management” zoned property. “Hamlets” are identified by the Commission as “population and commercial centers, where the most intensified development is intended” by the APA. State law requires that mining and wood manufacturing occur only on “industrial use” private property.
In his book The Adirondack Rebellion, Anthony N. D’Elia noted: “More than 50 percent of the privately owned land has been zoned one home per 43 acres. This has destroyed land values without compensation from the state. Other densities allowed are 8.5 acres zoning (35 percent of private land) 3.2 and 1.3 acre for the small balance of privately-owned land.”
For every conceivable use of an inholder’s property, the APA has come up with a restriction. According to the Adirondack Park Agency Rules and Regulations, for example, as a “general rule” private property owners in the Adirondacks cannot develop or subdivide their land “in a land use area not governed by an approved local land use program, without first obtaining an agency permit.”
Additionally, the agency prescribes official regulations for “projects involving more than one land use area,” “projects located in critical environmental areas,” “along land use area boundaries . . . subdivision into sites . . . division of land by gift . . . preexisting subdivisions . . . .” If a businessman expands his hotel, motel, tourist accommodation, ski center, golf course, sand, gravel, or mineral extraction enterprises, he must obey restrictive “increase and expansion” regulations.
Moreover, the APA regulates private timber harvesting activities. “Clearcutting of more than 25 acres, except within industrial use areas and non-wetland areas within hamlet areas” falls under APA jurisdiction, thus requiring an agency permit. In order to secure the permit, property owners must fulfill “general requirements” as well as numerous “standards for the review of clearcut-ting.” In addition, “no application for a permit to clearcut shall be deemed complete unless it includes a draft harvest plan,” which in turn entails more requirements.
Inholders wishing to build a home on a shoreline, for instance, must comply with extensive APA “building setback, vegetative cutting . . . minimum lot width . . . [and] minimum on-site sewage disposal system setback restrictions” to name a few. The APA also has decreed lengthy “Special Provisions Relating to Wild, Scenic and Recreational Rivers . . . [and] Freshwater Wetlands” located on private land.
This is but a small sample of APA dictates applied to the property, of private citizens. Adirondackers didn’t settle their families and construct their homes on public land in a public park but on private land long before state bureaucrats encircled their property with a Blue Line. in the words of Fred Monroe, chairman of the Adirondack Fairness Coalition, “Wherever you go [in the park], you’ll find places where real people have lived since colonial days. Go down a side street, and you’ll find tombstones in churchyards that date back to Thomas Jefferson’s presidency.”
For nearly two decades, Adirondack State Park inholders have been defending their liberties and property rights against the assaults of environmentalists and bureaucrats_ An August 23, 1976, New York Times article describes their response to APA policies only three years after the agency’s inception:
To the tourists and summer vacationers on the lakes and mountains, the Adirondack scene is placid. But to local residents, their land has become a battleground where the most stringent land use controls in the nation have been imposed by outsiders . . . . When the new law went into effect, it resulted in the classic confrontation of conflicting philosophies that emerges in all zoning fights—the right of personal control of private property versus the right of the state to regulate development in the interest of all the people.
“What kind of a free country is it when a man can’t build a house on his own property?” asked Lawrence J. Reandreau, a Vietnam veteran, standing near the foundation of a house he had just started to build on the banks of the Raquette River in violation of agency rules . . . .
To the [APA] agency staff, Mr. Reandreau was the innocent buyer of a lot in an illegal subdivision who received permission to build after all the legalities were straightened out.
To Mr. Reandreau, the agency was the epitome of Catch-22 administration—it sent him incomprehensible letters, he said, cited new regulations, imposed impossible time schedules and finally gave him permission to build after he notified it he would go ahead anyway.
“Those delays are going to cost me more than $5,000,” he said.
Experiences like Mr. Reandreau’s have multiplied over the years as the APA has formulated more regulations and tightened enforcement. Carol W. LaGrasse, a councilwoman in the town of Stony Creek, New York, and executive director of the Adirondack Cultural Foundation, reports, “The APA travels the back roads on the lookout for even a new back porch a family might start putting up without the long, drawn-out agency review process that costs many times more for lawyers than the porch.”
The imposition of expensive and complicated zoning regulations coupled with lengthy bureaucratic review processes effectively render individual liberties and private property rights meaningless in the Adirondacks. Consider the case of Jim Morris, the father of 10, who bought property in the Adirondacks so he could parcel the land among his children. Says Morris, “I had a dream that my children and grandchildren would be living all around us.”
He bought 272.5 acres in Johnsburg, New York, with the intention of subdividing his land into approximately 28 lots as permitted under APA building density requirements. Morris insisted on complying with the full letter and spirit of the law because, as he explained in the May 8, 1991, edition of the Warrensburg-Lake George News, “I don’t want my children to have to fight. I don’t want to have to worry about the other shoe dropping after I’m dead.”
The APA took three years to review the Morris application. During that time, the agency conjured up a new zoning category termed “back country,” which combines the 42.7-acre “resource management” and 8.5-acre “rural” zones, so as to dispute Morris’s legal right to partition his property into 8.5-acre lots. Moreover, the agency demanded that Morris install sewers, water lines, utilities, and perform maintenance on the town road that leads to his property. According to the News, APA Operations Director William Curran notified Morris in April 1990 that “the Agency requires the subdivision infrastructure either be built or bonded for prior to conveying lots.”
After three years of demands, delays, restrictions, frustration, humiliation, and with the Morris family $35,000 poorer because of legal and engineering fees, the APA concluded that the Morris project didn’t fall under its jurisdiction in the first place! Carol LaGrasse writes in the July 10-16, 1991, issue of The Adirondack Journal: “The APA decided after three years that the application was an example of a bona fide gift to family members and that as such it was exempt from APA jurisdiction . . . . The APA predicated their non-jurisdiction ruling on Morris keeping each lot to at least . . . seven acres per lot.” Thus, Morris was compelled to start all over again and undergo another planning review process with the local Johnsburg Planning Board.
Experiencing firsthand the danger that agency zoning restrictions portended for the cherished rights of Adirondackers, Anthony D’Elia was one of the first to lead the charge against the APA in the early 1970s. Out of his personal battle with theagency came his Adirondack Rebellion book illustrating APA tyranny.
A summer mecca for Presidents and other luminaries around the turn of the century, Loon Lake, New York, gradually fell into disrepair. In May 1970, D’Elia, an industrial engineer and teacher, arrived from New York City with an idea. Mustering his life savings and persuading three friends to invest with him, D’Elia bought 3,500 acres of land in Loon Lake, determined to renovate and restore the resort to its former glory.
According to an April 23, 1990, article by Lorraine Littlefield in the Plattsburgh, New York, Press-Republican, “They tore down seven buildings beyond repair, and set about renovating the 22 that remained. D’Elia built 3.5 miles of new roads and modernized the water, sewer and electrical systems. He drew up plans for 345 homes to be built on one-to-10 acre sites. Two-thousand-one-hundred acres would be left forever wild and commonly owned.”
A self-described environmentalist, D’Elia initially welcomed the birth of the APA in 1973. He viewed the agency as an important means by which to protect the Adirondacks. However, after spending four months and thousands of dollars developing a master plan and an environmental impact study requested but subsequently rejected by the APA, D’Elia realized that the APA had more on its agenda than wilderness preservation and protection. According to the Press-Republican, “When the work was completed, the agency said that they needed different information. He hired biologists, botanists, limnologists, geologists, as many as 40 people working at one time to furnish the data that filled 900 legal-sized pages . . . at more than $100 per page. The public hearing in 1974 went on for four months. Legal fees came to $30,000 and transcripts $12,000.”
A Hollow Victory
Although the APA eventually approved D’Elia’s project in 1975, it was a hollow victory for the developer because the agency conditioned its approval with 62 stipulations. Indeed, one of the requirements by itself was enough to torpedo the Loon Lake project: the APA ordered that “Loon Lake be monitored for five years by analyses of 168 water samples each month . . . [with an estimated] cost at $100,000 per year.” Because the APA’s 62 stipulations were so expensive, D’Elia abandoned his project.
The Press-Republican’s Chris Mele writes in the April 26, 1990, issue: “D’Elia and other APA opponents maintain that the state’s zoning in the Adirondack Park is so restrictive that it effectively deprives private property owners of their land without compensating them.” Lorraine Littlefield reports in the Press-Republican that New York State Supreme Court Judge Harold Soden concurred with D’Elia’s sentiments when the judge “ruled that [D'Elia] had a valid suit in charging that the demands for conceptual review and approval of projects were an improper exercise, a taking without compensation, and a violation of the right to equal protection under the law.”
Inholder Judy Ford is the director of the Au Sable chapter of the Adirondack Solidarity Alliance. It is one of several grassroots organizations that have sprung up in opposition to the APA. The Solidarity Alliance advocates “home rule” in the Adirondacks as opposed to state control, and Alliance members serve as “defenders of the right to own and freely enjoy private property in the Adirondacks.”
The Alliance warns inholders that “in many cases it takes lots of money and legal assistance to start and finish a permit process. You often find that one permit application leads to another and another . . . . It is naive to think the APA hasn’t targeted the Adirondack native for extinction.”
Mrs. Ford describes the people of the rural Adirondacks as “tough, independent, who must live by instinct and create their own jobs” to survive. Many operate small businesses to earn a living, and the work ethic of such enterprises has inculcated in Adirondackers the importance of individual liberty and private property rights.
Inholder Howard Aubin, the owner of a small sawmill, asserts that Adirondackers no longer live in the United States but in a possession of New York. He says, “We lost the rights that everyone else has in this country. We don’t have them here.” Judy Ford states, “The worst thing is that when you get up in the morning, you know that people can do various things with their property and business, but we can’t do it here.”
She calls attention to a statement made by Governor Cuomo that appeared in the March 12,1990, issue of The New American to make her point. The governor said, “Yes, we have taken away some of the rights of the people living in the Adirondacks, but that’s the penalty they have to pay for living there.”
Describing APA hearings, the Solidarity Alliance warns inholders: “You are presumed guilty. Not only do you have to prove yourself innocent, but must also prove the APA wrong. Maybe this is what the governor meant when he said natives of the Adirondacks have given up some of their rights.” In any event, Judy Ford asks, “Can you imagine a governor saying this?”
No One’s Patsy
Attesting to their heritage of independence and self-reliance, Adirondackers have been anything but passive in the face of APA assaults on their rights. For example, secluded Crane Pond Road in the town of Schroon Lake is an easy-access town road that leads to fishing and picnic areas. It is particularly popular with the elderly because of its accessibility.
After the state bought the land on both sides of the road, it suddenly closed it by placing large boulders at the road’s entrance in December 1989. The Solidarity Alliance views the road as “a symbol of the state’s oppression of Adirondackers.” Undeterred, and outraged by yet more governmental encroachment, on June 2, 1990, inholders moved the heavy stones to the town square of Scbroon Lake. They spray-painted the words “Stones of Shame” on them, and several days later hauled the rocks to Albany, the state capital.
On Labor Day weekend, 1990, members of Preserve Appalachian Wilderness, an offshoot of the violence- prone Earth First! group, decided to take matters into their own hands and close the road once and for all. But after being confronted by angry residents led by Donald Gerdts, head of the 22,000-member Citizens Council of the Adirondacks, the radical environmentalists deemed it wise not to return. Crane Pond Road remains open.
One widely reported July 1991 incident, involving three APA inspectors, illustrates the growing volatility of inholder tempers. After completing a site survey involving the placement of a sign on private property in Au Sable Forks, three APA agents were fired on as they drove off. As many as 12 bullets were fired at the APA agents, and one bullet punctured the right-front tire.
The July 9, 1991, edition of The Saranac Lake Daily Enterprise comments, “Since the creation of the APA in 1974, the agency has come under verbal abuse by some Adirondack residents who view the APA as dictatorial in enforcing stringent land use regulations.” Judy Ford believes the APA “realized for the first time just how vulnerable they are in the wilderness and how much they are hated. Violence is breaking out because people are so fed up and frustrated. No one is listening, so people are resorting to this. Many were even heard saying, ‘Aim higher next time!’”
Howard Aubin notes, “The fight up here is always touted as the fight between big developers versus environmentalists, but the opposition is coming primarily from the people who have had to stomach the APA for 19 years. Yes, developers are fighting too but the people are so upset, they are rising up.”
Aubin divides environmentalists into two groups: those sincerely working to steward the environment and those “pursuing a socialist agenda and depriving Adirondackers of property rights.” He describes the latter group of environmentalists as “particularly insidious because they are attacking property rights bit by bit by bit. We are progressing toward a regional government as villages dissolve due to increasing taxes. The higher taxes make for more willing sellers. It is creeping socialism under an environmental mask.”
The Adirondack Park Agency isn’t the only menace to the property fights of Adirondackers. Dr. Vincent Vaccaro, an inholder in New Hartford, New York, has been waging a costly battle with Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) bureaucrats to prevent them from confiscating his property under the power of eminent domain.
The Pine Lake property located in the town of Morehouse that Vaccaro purchased in 1988 had been on the market for about 10 years. During that time, the state had tendered repeated offers for the land but never followed through with a purchase agreement. When Dr. Vaccaro came along and did buy the land, the state initiated eminent domain proceedings “to confiscate property it could have easily bought,” the doctor says.
Moreover, the DEC insisted on employing eminent domain despite the fact that Vaccaro told them of his intention to “place conservation easements in the deed of the property that will protect it forever from subdivision and development . . . . It makes no sense to me why the state has to waste taxpayers’ money to buy land that it doesn’t have to purchase in order to protect.”
DEC Commissioner Thomas Jorling contends, “The Adirondack Park is a checkerboard of public and private land, and I wanted to consolidate the state lands.” Responding to Jorling, former Essex County economic development director Gerald B. Edwards writes in the Press-Republican, “What message should all of us, the small holders of private land, get from this ominous remark? We see eminent domain hanging over our heads like a scepter being indiscriminately wielded by an avaricious, mindless bureaucracy bent on gaining total control of our land and our lives.”
The DEC’s use of eminent domain is even more inexplicable in view of Governor Mario Cuomo’s numerous public comments to the contrary. For example, Cuomo stated in the September 25-October 1, 1990, Hamilton County News: “I think some people upstate have the mistaken impression that the state is going to grab land that people don’t want to sell. That is not true . . . . And if somebody in the Adirondacks doesn’t want to sell his or her property, terrific—they won’t have to. Nobody’s going to compel them.”
Vaccaro views the “calling up of eminent domain the strongest attack possible on private property,” and DEC administrative law judge Frank Montecalvo concurred with him. In a November 7, 1988, hearing report, the judge concluded: “[The Vaccaro] acquisition is generally viewed to benefit, not millions of citizens of the state, but only those few recreationists who may be able to travel to, and are physically capable of negotiating, the properties. It is generally perceived that any benefit from the proposed acquisitions through the use of eminent domain would be far outweighed by adverse impacts on real estate transactions, private management of lands, the forest products industry, and citizens’ ‘sense of security’ in the proper functioning of their government.”
Nonetheless, Commissioner Jorling refused to heed the judge’s findings, and Dr. Vaccaro spent three years and thousands of dollars defending his property. The state finally dropped its case on March 1, 1991. Reflecting on his ordeal, Dr. Vaccaro writes: “It appears that the State has a plan to eliminate all people from the Park, first by acquiring all the land within the blue line, second by seizing the land by eminent domain, and third by imposing overly burdensome regulations so as to drive everyone away. The State is trying very hard to make life unbearable in the Adirondack Park.”
Storm Clouds on the Horizon: The 21st Century Commission
Jim Hemus describes current APA regulations as “restrictive and, as they are applied, they are unbearable.” New York State disagrees with Mr. Hemus. Acquiescing to the pleas of environmentalists, Governor Cuomo appointed the Commission on the Adirondacks in the Twenty-First Century to investigate ways of checking alleged “excessive development” in the park. According to the Governor, “Recent developments suggest that we may be entering a new period in the history of the Adirondacks, an era of unbridled land speculation and unwarranted development that may threaten the unique open space and wilderness character of the region.”
In April 1990, the Commission issued its report entitled “The Adirondack Park in the Twenty-First Century,” and in it Commission Chairman Peter A. A. Berle responds, “We have concluded that [the governor's claims are] indeed true.” The Adirondack Fairness Coalition says Berle’s assertion contradicts “statistics from the U.S. Bureau of the Census and from the Adirondack Park Agency [which] show that more than one-quarter of the park’s 110 communities have not grown at all in recent years, either in population or housing. And one-half of the residential growth between 1987 and 1988 occurred in only 10 towns . . . . only one-tenth of the houses built two years ago are on the 86 percent of private land commonly referred to as ‘backcountry.’ In 51 communities—nearly half those in the Adirondacks, 10 or fewer building and subdivision applications were made during the past five years.” Andrew Halloran of the Adirondack Fairness Coalition says that “anyone really familiar with the Adirondacks knows that there is no crisis [of over-development] here of any proportion. In fact, 98 percent of everything within the Blue Line is undeveloped.”
To the dismay of inholders, the Commission declares current APA regulations to be outdated and woefully inadequate in “protecting” private property. Thus, as if the current regulations weren’t enough with which to contend, there are plans afoot in the Adirondacks and in Albany to arm the environmental bureaucracy with more power, including new and stronger zoning regulations binding private property, administered by a “bigger and better” Adirondack Park Administration. In effect it would rule the park as a regional government or, to use the 21st Century Commission’s language, “as a single entity . . . with all public and private enterprises subject to the same review and permitting process.” This begs the question; What exactly is private property if it is subjected to such state “review”?
The Executive Summary of the Commission’s report explains that this “new Adirondack Park Administration should be created to plan and regulate the use of land, both private and public. It would administer a more comprehensive private land use plan, determine uses within the various public units, control the use of wetlands and wild, scenic and recreational rivers as the APA does now and assist local and county governments in land use functions.”
The new and stronger zoning would, according to Commission Recommendation 101, allocate “one SDR [Structural Development Right: the right to construct a residence] per ownership unit (all the land held by an owner in the Park) as of April 1, 1990, up to 2,000 acres and one for each 2,000 thereafter” on both “resource management” and “rural use” lands. The Fairness Coalition’s Bernard Miller, a Keene Valley, New York, resi dent, says, “Thus, the owner with a combined acreage of 10,000 acres in Resource Management and Rural Use lands would be entitled to only five building rights. This contrasts with the present right of that owner to possibly construct, according to Adirondack Park Agency law and subject to the agency’s approval, 234 principal buildings if the 10,000 acres were all Resource Management and 1,176 principal buildings if it were all Rural Use.”
In an analysis of Recommendation 101, Miller pinpoints three flaws: “ The value of most building rights and of existing homes would skyrocket beyond the reach of average Adirondackers.  The park’s so-called back country would become a preserve for the super-rich.  The plan is so complicated that even simple land transactions would require expensive title searches across many counties.” The Fairness Coalition adds, “the Commission’s 2,000-acre zoning plan would limit building rights to one house per landowner on 86 percent of the private land in the Adirondacks. Once a house is built on this land, subsequent generations of landowners could never build another one.”
The Commission’s call for a “one-year moratorium on development and subdivision in those areas designated resource management and rural use in the existing land use plan as well as along Park shorelines while the Legislature considers actions needed to put these recommendations into effect” has especially infuriated Adirondackers.
Calvin Cart, Executive Director of the Solidarity Alliance, says in the May 24,1990, edition of the Plattsburgh Press-Republican, “’There’s already a de facto moratorium’ . . . [because] the Adirondack Park Agency puts so many stipulations on a building permit that building the structure becomes too costly. Just meeting the APA regulations often costs more than the land . . . . placing stricter restrictions on Adirondack Park land will only make developable land in the hamlets skyrocket beyond most residents’ ability to own or pay taxes on it.”
Even though the six-million-acre Adirondack Park today is larger than each of the seven smallest states in the Union, and includes 2.6 million acres of state land, the 21st Century Commission proposes to add 654,850 acres at a cost of $196 million to the state-owned property by seizing the land from private holdings. Whereas New York State currently holds 42 percent of the park’s land, the implementation of this plan “would bring 52 per cent of the Park into state ownership.”
Norma Mildred Holcomb, a housewife from Hudson Falls, New York, articulates her frustration with state meddling in a poem entitled “Adirondack Independence”:
. . . They can tell us Adirondackers we can’t build,
That our independence is taken and we must he stilled.
We’ve worked so hard for our family and home,
So why can’t the state just leave us alone?
The 21st Century Report states that the Commission “believes that the people of New York want their Adirondack Park to be safe from the forces of development, alive with the forces of nature. It also believes that . . . the residents of the Park itself are determined to support the Park inholders love so well, not leaving its future to chance or to the vagaries of the marketplace.”
Judy Ford responds: “Why do APA officers need police protection at town meetings to peddle democracy?”
In addition to the Adirondack Park Agency and the 21st Century Commission, new government agencies are being formed that threaten the rights of Adirondackers. The Lake Champlain Special Designation Act of 1990 (U.S. Public Law 101596) authorized the creation of the Lake Champlain Management Conference. Funded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the conference is charged with studying the lake and formulating recommendations to improve water quality.
According to Dale French, a nuclear engineer and chairman of the Adirondack Solidarity Alliance, the conference “will recommend property controls, such as shore-front setbacks, septic system restrictions, and levels of allowable pollutants discharged.” It will impact five counties in New York, 10 counties in Vermont, and even reach into Quebec.
What the APA is on the state level, the Northern Forest Lands Council (NFLC) is on the Federal level. The Northern Forest stretches across Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, and New York (including the Adirondack State Park), encompassing 26 million acres. It is home to nearly one million people. About 85 percent of this forest is privately held.
“The Northern Forest Lands Study of New England and New York,” prepared in April 1990 by the U.S. Forest Service, called for additional
1. Land use planning and regulation by local and state governments;
2. Acquisition of easements and full-fee land to protect those values that would otherwise be lost to future development;
3. Incentives and other actions to keep forest land economically viable and private land open to the public; incentives must be in exchange for binding commitments to conserve important land and resources.
Robert Voight of the Maine Conservation Rights institute says: “The NFLC is . . . an attempt at centralized—read coordinated—planning intended to lead to discriminatory land use controls and public acquisition within an area yet to be defined . . . . the language of the [Northern Forest Lands Act of 1991] displays a pervasive bias against private ownership and in favor of public, i.e., government, interests in land use and management.” Curiously, the plan would strive to keep “private land open to the public.”
James S. Burling, an attorney with the Pacific Legal Foundation, states that “if the Northern Forest Lands legislation is passed as currently drafted, many private property owners will be at a greater risk than today of having their lands condemned by the state or federal governments. Land that is not condemned may become subject to land use restrictions that will limit the productive and economic use of the land.”
Stringent land use controls and condemnations are not confined to the Adirondack Park in New York State; they impinge upon inholders across America. From the Cuyahoga Valley National Recreation Area in Ohio and the Everglades National Park in Florida to the Columbia River Gorge in Oregon and Washington, state and Federal bureaucrats seize private property with impunity and deprive citizens of their liberties.
To Adirondackers, the issues are fundamental ones of property rights and freedom, and are summed up in a letter from Judy Ford: “Nobody is taking into consideration the lives of year-around residents and a very distinct culture that will be erased forever. We are mountain people and this is our land. There has to be a place for us on the land on which we were born.”