At tonight's public hearing, the Town of Queensbury is considering whether to approve the unjust, extreme proposal to rezone land that is zoned at 10 acres per unit to 42 acres per unit. This would subject about 22 percent of the town, or about 8,800 acres, to the most extreme zoning imposed under New York State's Adirondack Park Agency (APA) Act, even though the land escaped that extreme zoning under the statutory APA Land Use and Development Plan.
My name is Carol W. LaGrasse, President of the Property Rights Foundation of America, a nationwide, grassroots, non-profit educational organization dedicated to the defense of private property rights, which is headquartered in nearby Stony Creek. People from Maine to Florida to Alaska to Hawaii are involved actively in the work of the Property Rights Foundation. Citizens who are property owners in the Town of Queensbury are active in the Property Rights Foundation of America.
Tonight I have four points to share with the Town Board.
1. Radical, dead end zoning
The 42-acre zoning that the APA law has imposed on about 45 percent of the private land in the Adirondacks is a source of personal hardship, economic distress on an individual and regional level, and a great injustice. At the time of enactment in 1973, the 42-acre zoning was the most radical zoning in the nation, and it remains one of the most extreme zoning schemes in the nation. From my 33 years of close observance of the APA law from the days of its original passage, I have seen that the 42-acre zoning puts a stranglehold on land, putting it indefinitely in limbo.
It was an outrage that the powerful national environmental groups, the governor and legislators from all over the state foisted the APA law on the disenfranchised property owners of the Adirondacks. What a shame it would be if one of the worst features of the APA law would be foisted on neighbors by neighbors in the town of Queensbury. The unconstitutional "taking" of private property accomplished by 42-acre zoning has not been adequately litigated.
2. The simple preservation solution
A logical solution already exists to meet the concerns that individuals who want to preserve these properties but who are not landowners. This solution requires no injustice to the property owners. The solution is for the individuals who want to "save" the properties in question to make offers to buy them.
The most ambitious plan that the individuals could embrace would be to purchase all of the lands. Assume that the land averages about $15,000 per acre, which should be on the high side, and that 300 individuals would like to participate in a private corporation to preserve this land. They would have to raise about $132 million or an average of about $430,000 each. There could be a range of generosity of the investors, and private contributions could be sought from wealthy agencies such as the Open Space Institute. The individual planning board members who believe that the land is worth saving so much that other individuals should be deprived of far more money could generously contribute, and enjoy a great sense of satisfaction.
3. Supermajority Town Board Rezoning Vote
Property owners specifically affected by town rezoning have a particular right established in New York State statute for the requirement of a defined supermajority of the town board. The requirement under Section 265 of the Town Law is that:
" any such amendment shall require the approval of at least three-fourth of the members of the town board in the event such an amendment is the subject of a written protest, presented to the town board and signed by the owners of twenty percent or more of the area of land included in such proposed change."
This means that if property owners of twenty percent of the land in the proposed 42-acre zone present such a petition, if more that one town board fails to vote for the measure, it will not pass.
4. Foreclosing the future of housing for low-income workers
Each radical zoning scheme forecloses the ability of low-income workers to have affordable places to live while earning a living. Efficiently accomplishing its unjust purpose, the 42-acre zoning in the Adirondacks makes it impossible to divide off parcels for houses, whether for relatively well-to-do newcomers or for local young couples starting families. The resulting pressure on the existing housing stock raises prices. As a result, there are currently not enough places for workers in the tourism industry. Some summer workers, including young women, sleep in their cars, in places such as public campgrounds, moving from campground to campground. Workers also sleep in old buses, even into the cold season, as long as they can stand it.
During their presentation in Chestertown in 2003 to the Adirondack Park Agency about the town of Queensbury's successful open space planning and tourism outreach, one of the Queensbury town planners made a revealing comment. The town's successful efforts to increase tourism have a downside. The planner for this very town said that the low-paid workers who are needed to serve the tourist industry are finding that, as a result of the higher cost of housing, it is becoming increasingly difficult to live near to their jobs.
"Lake Placid has been pricing its work force out of the community," the planner said about that world-famous village in the high peaks. "We're looking at the same problem. People have to commute 15-20 miles." The planner conveyed the concern that, already, low-paid workers are having difficulty affording housing in Queensbury, and that it is only getting worse.
In summary, the 42-acre re-zoning represents radical preservation and injustice to property owners, and dooms the future of property. The proposal is vulnerable to litigation. A simple, fair solution exists that would respect private property owners and place the cost of preservation at the doorstep of those that feel that it is essential. New York State law recognizes the need to protect property owners from unwanted rezoning with a special petition and town board vote format. And, according to one Queensbury town planner, low-income workers already are suffering from a shortage of affordable housing in Queensbury, just as they are under the radical zoning imposed by the APA. Radical zoning will only worsen the pressure on working people.