Potential Violations from as long as 30 Years Ago cause Insecurity
STATUTE OF LIMITATIONS ON VIOLATIONS OF APA ACT PROPOSED
Betty Little and Teresa Sayward Introduce Bill for Ten-Year Limit
By Carol W. LaGrasse, September, 2003
A story by John Gereau in the Adirondack Journal on March 22, 2003 begins:
"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 the 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 Monda's problem of finding themselves the victim of a years-old violation of the complexities of the Adirondack Park Agency (APA) Act is not rare. In fact, many property owners live with insecurity, wondering if some inconsistency with the APA law will be discovered. It only takes a grudge-settling neighbor, or, as in the Mondas' case, an innocent call to the APA requesting a site visit on another matter, to let the unnoticed error out of the bag.
Senator Elizabeth ("Betty") O'C. Little and Assembly Member Teresa Sayward are leading a bill in the State Legislature that would establish a ten-year statute of limitations on violations of the APA Act. Under their bill, S. 5678/A. 9111, Adirondack property owners would be protected with a new rule using the same principle by which rapists, robbers, and nearly all criminals have been historically protected. There would be a time limitation on the bringing of charges for violations of the APA Act.
"The APA has, at times, taken many years to enforce violations of their regulations," stated the Senator and Assemblywoman in a jointly signed letter to Carol LaGrasse during July. "Frequently the property in question has changed ownership and the new owners are faced with correcting a violation they were totally unaware of and one that happened many years prior to the enforcement action."
A key provision of the bill is:
"An action to enforce violations of the rules and regulations of the Adirondack park agency within the Adirondack Park shall be commenced by such agency within ten years after the discovery of such violation, or in the exercise of reasonable diligence should have been discovered by a public servant who has the responsibility to enforce such provisions."
The Adirondack Park Local Government Review Board, an agency established by the Legislature in 1973 to be a watchdog over the APA, passed a resolution at their meeting at the Adirondack Hotel in Long Lake on August 27 directing their attorney John McDonald to ask Senator Little and Assemblywoman Sayward to clarify the language that would establish the statute of limitations. The Review Board would like the clock to run from the date the deed was done, rather than from when it was discovered or when it would be reasonably expected to have been discovered, the alternates stated in the bill.
The bill is also sponsored by Senators Farley, Meier, and Seward; and Assembly Members Aubertine, McDonald, Butler, Ortloff, Scozzafava, and Townsend.
"We believe there should be a limit as to how far back the APA can go requiring correction of violations," stated Senator Little and Assemblywoman Sayward in their letter. "This bill would ease the burden of the regulations and will also give the APA a starting point for review."
Adirondack property owners who may have violations of the APA Act deserve a timeframe of vulnerability that allows more security than that for murderers. They should not experience having their lives disrupted by a sudden letter and stipulation from the APA enforcement department for a violation twenty or thirty years old. The violation may not even pertain to their property, but instead to a parcel from which their property was separated many years ago. The passage of a bill providing a clearcut statute of limitations would bring peace of mind to Adirondack property owners.
- Carol W. LaGrasse, September 2003