The State Appellate Court upheld permits for construction of the Adirondack Club and Resort here.
The decision means land sales and construction at the planned 650-unit resort will likely move forward this summer. It is designed to unfold in phases.
The legality of Adirondack Park Agency permits issued in January 2012 were challenged by the Sierra Club, Protect the Adirondacks and three adjoining landowners in March 2012.
But the Appellate Division voted 5-0 to affirm that the permits were granted in accordance with state land-use law.
Tupper Lake Mayor Paul Maroun was ecstatic with the decision, announced Thursday.
"I believed all along that we would win the case on the merits," he told the Press-Republican.
"I also believed all along that it would be a 5-0 decision. And why I say that is after 11 years of review and after sitting through the hearings, which were handled very effectively by Administrative Law Judge Daniel O’Connell, I knew the thorough review made it much easier for the Appellate Division to rule in favor of the state.
“What happens is, now, the developers, Mr. (Michael) Foxman and Mr. (Tom) Lawson will be able to start selling the lots.
"Of course, some of the money from those sales would be used to start working on the Big Tupper Ski Center, which is vital to year-round tourist season in Tupper Lake.
"We look forward to now moving ahead with the revitalization of Tupper Lake and the surrounding area. It will have a huge effect on the tax base in the county.
"I think it’s a great day, and I’m glad the legal system bore out what I and others have been saying for a long time," Maroun said.
Leaders at Protect the Adirondacks expressed disappointment with the court's ruling.
“We fought the good fight for a wild and green Adirondacks,” Chuck Clusen, chairman of Protect, said in a news release. "We’re terribly disappointed in this decision.
“This is a great loss for the Adirondack Park and the (APA) because it sets a precedent for forest fragmentation across the Adirondacks and codifies for the first time in 40 years of APA history that the APA Act is to be reduced to mere guidance and not law,” Peter Bauer, executive director of the preservation group, said in a statement.
“Today could mark a point of no return in the history of the Adirondack Park. This follows a series of highly political decisions regarding Forest Preserve management and private land development in the Adirondacks,” he added.
"Many saw this project as shaping the future of Tupper Lake; Protect always saw this project and lawsuit as shaping the future of the Adirondack Park.”
Jim LaValley, chairman of Adirondack Residents Intent on Saving their Economy, has long championed progress for the resort development, which will be built around Mount Morris and Big Tupper Ski Center.
“We are pleased that the courts have upheld the APA permit,” LaValley said in a statement. “The vote supports what we have been saying all along: that the (APA) did a proper and thorough review.
"The ruling by the panel of judges continues to show that all procedures and review were done according to the APA Act and the Adirondack Club project does not rise to the level of having an undue adverse impact.
"This demonstrates the strong support for the Adirondack Club and the community of Tupper Lake.”
APA Chairwoman Leilani Ulrich was also pleased with the appellate decision.
APA reviewed Adirondack Club and Resort plans after a lengthy adjudication process managed by DEC administrative law judge O'Connell.
The project was in planning and review for more than eight years.
“Today’s ruling validates the (APA’s) thorough and extensive review process which ensures responsible development with strong environmental protections," Ulrich said.
"I applaud APA staff and the Agency Board for their professionalism and attention to detail.
"We believe this project will be a transformational economic-development opportunity for Tupper Lake and the entire Adirondack Park. We now look forward to working with the community to bring this project to fruition.”
At the North Country Chamber of Commerce, based in Plattsburgh, President Garry Douglas also applauded the court's decision.
Douglas, who is also co-chairman of the North Country Regional Economic Development Council, said by email: "It was always clear, after years of review and an 8-1 vote, that this project had been thoroughly vetted.
"The courts have now affirmed that, and hopefully the developers can finally proceed on this economically transformational project for Tupper Lake and the entire region without further delaying tactics.
"The Regional Economic Development Council and the chamber have identified and supported this project as an example of the sort of well-planned destination development that is needed in the Adirondacks.
"It very much represents the sort of investment and balanced approach to the future that we are starting to see and have long needed in Adirondack communities."
RIGHT TO APPEAL
The ruling clears the way for resort construction. Investments in land at the resort have held back, pending legal decsion.
Bauer said they are reviewing options for response to the legal decision.
But leaders here understand the legal right plaintiffs have to approach the State Court of Appeals.
"The decision was very strongly worded," Maroun said. "Normally on a strongly worded decision, the Court of Appeals will not hear the appeal case.
"I am actually very glad that it took a little long for the appellate court to rule, because if the groups that don’t want this project try to bring another Article 78 lawsuit or try to get an injunction, then the Supreme Court judges would say this case has been determined," he said.
“It's my hope that the plaintiffs involved with the Article 78 will accept the ruling and allow the community of Tupper Lake to move forward, without further frivolous action,” LaValley said.
“The community, the ACR investors and the region have shown that they want this project to move forward, and that it is the right project, at the right time.
"For the plaintiffs of the Article 78 to act or state otherwise would clearly demonstrate that their intentions are anything but honorable.
"The Adirondack Club investors and the community have shown their willingness to play by the rules, and now it's time to move forward with what promises to be an exciting future for Tupper Lake, and the region," LaValley said.
Bauer said procedural steps are still ahead for resort developers.
"The project must now finalize its approvals and secure final permits with the APA, obtain permits from the (DEC) and Army Corp of Engineers and obtains approvals from the Attorney General’s Office."
State and local financing options through Franklin County Industrial Development Agency support have not yet been vetted in public hearings.
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