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Property Rights Foundation of America®
Founded 1994

APA violation sparks debate

By John Gereau
johng@denpubs.com
Adirondack Journal, March 22, 2003
reprinted by permission of the Adirondack Journal

LAKE GEORGE — From Ed and Mary Lou Monda's lakeside deck, Lake George unfolds into an endless blue sky.

It is the stuff of postcards; an enviable view of the lake and mountains that can be absorbed into the soul from the comfort of an Adirondack chair.

But the Mondas are under orders by the Adirondack Park Agency to remove more than half of their deck — even though it was built nearly 30 years ago, well before the couple purchased their lakefront getaway.

The Mondas weren't told that the deck didn't conform with APA regulations when they bought the place in 1998. In fact, the deck and the breathtaking view from it was a primary motivator behind their buying the pricey land.

"The cabin really wasn't in the best of shape, but the view from the deck was just spectacular," said Mary Lou. "Without that deck, we probably would have thought twice about buying the place."

The Monda's case has prompted local officials to seek a statute of limitations for APA violations.

More heinous crimes like rape, manslaughter and arson all have a statute of limitations under law, proponents of the change argue, while APA violations do not.

Even APA commissioners support a statute of limitations on some violations, because chasing down 20- or 30-year-old cases bogs down their system.

In the meantime, anyone with a structure built after the APA came into being in 1973 that doesn't conform to APA laws, can face enforcement action.

Such is the case for the Mondas, who have been entangled in bureaucratic red tape for the better part of two years, costing them hundreds in legal fees. Now, they must remove a large portion of their deck.

Unaware of violation

The Mondas bought their retirement home on Black Point Road in Putnam — complete with a 10-foot by 70-foot front deck — in 1998.

The cabin is nestled at the dead-end of a lazy two-lane road that meanders along part of Lake George's east shore. It's located south of Ticonderoga, just over the Washington County line.

Ed spent summers recreating on Lake George in the lakeside town of Bolton. After retiring, the couple decided to relocate from Long Island to the Adirondacks permanently.

The Mondas trouble with the APA began in 2001 when they bought an adjoining property and asked the APA for a simple adjustment to their property line.

But when the agency visited the site, they saw the lengthy deck and quickly cited the couple for having a structure that doesn't comply to their regulations.

Under APA law, a structure in excess of 10-foot by 10-foot can't be built within 50 feet of a navigable water in the Adirondack Park without a variance from the agency.

The Monda's deck, which was built in 1976 exceeds that limit by 60 feet.

Settlement reached

Under the terms of a settlement agreed to by the couple in October, the Mondas must remove 39 feet of the deck before Nov. 15, 2004.

Furthermore, if they sell the property, the deck must be modified to conform with the shoreline restrictions set forth under APA law.

There were no penalties assessed against the Mondas by the agency.

APA spokeswoman Victoria Hristovski said that while the agency's Board of Commissioners may support a statute of limitations for some violations, the board likely won't support a time limit on all violations.

For example, in instances in which environmental damage is done, the APA wants to reserve the right to go after violators at any time.

"Something that's a violation now that is environmentally detrimental will still be detrimental 10 or 20 years from now," she said.

Hristovski said the agency is reviewing time limits on some violations, but said it is a complex issue that will take a rare change in their statutes to bring about.

Ultimately, the state legislature will need to make the change, she said.

At the same time, local officials say they'll do everything in their power to make sure the change occurs.

Officials rally for change

The Essex County Board of Supervisors, the Adirondack Park Review Board, the Adirondack Association of Towns and Villages and the Inter-County Legislative Committee all support a statute of limitations on APA violators.

The county board passed a resolution on March 3 asking the state to place a time limit on the APA's enforcement powers, and the Inter-County Committee is aligned to do the same during its meeting on March 20, said Newcomb Supervisor George Canon.

Canon said not having a time limit on the APA's enforcement powers is absurd, and said the Monda's case is a glowing example of that.

"It's absolutely asinine to have something like this hanging over your head for 20 years," Caon said.

Joseph Rota, the director of the Adirondack Park Agency Review Board, a state-appointed board that review the actions of the APA, said his group will likely pass a resolution supporting the statute of limitations during a meeting in Speculator on March 26.

He said the rule change has a "strong chance" of being approved at the state level.

"I think we will get it done," Rota said. "The agency staff is in favor of this. The amount of research involved in chasing down 30-year-old cases is enormous, and it's only getting worse."

Some against the time limit

But the change isn't without opposition.

Environmental groups, including the Adirondack Council,strongly oppose the rule change, and have vowed to lobby against it at the state level.

"We don't think it's good public policy to legitimize illegal behavior," said John Sheehan, a spokesman for the Adirondack Council.

Sheehan said the APA has been backlogged with enforcement cases since it was formed three decades ago. While the agency is making some headway, the backlog stands at about 1,000 cases, he said.

"We dont' want to legitimize illegal behavior by making it possible for somebody to lay in the weeds for a period of time and hope the APA doesn't take up the case," Sheehan said.

Beside, Sheehan said, it's not all that difficult to get an APA permit — even after the fact.

Last month the APA approved four after-the-fact permits, he said, one for a single-family home built without a permit and another for the expansion of a sand and gravel pit in the town of Chester.

"It's not like the agency is ruling with an iron fist when it comes to dealing with violations. Actually, they're pretty accommodating," he said.

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