What Do I Need to Know Before Buying a Vacation Home in the Adirondacks?

If you are like many people, you have long dreamed of owning a vacation home in the Adirondacks. With more than 3.4 million acres of privately-owned land, unparalleled views, and the largest protected area in the continental United States, the Adirondack Park is, for many, the ideal place to establish a home away from home.

When purchasing real estate in the Adirondacks, there are some important considerations you will want to keep in mind. Most importantly, there is a reason that the Adirondack Park has retained its desirability as a largely-untouched natural environment: The Adirondack Park Agency (the “Agency”) tightly regulates land use and development within the park’s borders. These regulations are strictly enforced, and understanding what you can – and can’t – do with your desired property will be important to making an informed decision about your second home investment.

The Adirondack Park Land Use and Development Plan

The place to start when investigating the land use and development restrictions on a piece of property in the Adirondacks is the Adirondack Park Land Use and Development Plan (APLUDP). The APLUDP divides the park’s private lands into five residential use categories (and one industrial use category):

  • The hamlets are the Adirondack Park’s primary residential and commercial development areas. Hamlet properties have the least-restrictive permit requirements, though property owners must remain cognizant of the Agency’s general regulations.
  • Moderate Intensity Use. The park’s moderate intensity use areas are primarily concentrated on residential development; and, like the hamlets, most land uses are permitted (again, subject to general park regulations).
  • Low-Intensity Use. Low-intensity use areas are similar to moderate intensity use areas, though residential development is less dense. The average lot size among the park’s low-intensity use areas is 3.2 acres, while in the moderate intensity use areas the average is 1.3 acres.
  • Rural Use. In the park’s rural use areas, residential development is more limited (the average lot size is 8.5 acres), and any development must preserve the land’s rural character.
  • Resource Management. Most land use and development in the Adirondack Park’s resource management areas requires a permit, and the Agency maintains a particular focus in these areas on preserving open space and the natural character of the land.

Critical Environmental Areas and Shoreline Protection

In addition, certain areas of the Adirondacks have been designated as “Critical Environmental Areas,” and as such are subject to heightened restrictions with regard to use and residential development. If you are considering a piece of property located partially within one of the park’s Critical Environmental Areas, you will need to be particularly cautious to avoid making unauthorized use of your land. Critical Environmental Areas in the Adirondack Park include:

  • Land above 2,500 feet, excluding hamlet properties
  • Land within 150-300 feet (depending on use classification) of a right-of-way or highway
  • Land within 1/8 mile of a state wilderness area, excluding hamlet properties
  • Land within 1/4 mile of certain designated rivers
  • Wetlands

All shoreline properties (including properties on lakes, ponds and rivers) are subject to lot width and setback restrictions in Adirondack Park as well. Before purchasing a second home in the Adirondacks, you will want to make sure that both (i) the property is legally-compliant in its current state, and (ii) you will be able to use and build on the property as you desire.

Contact Attorney William M. Finucane | Serving the Adirondack Area for Over 30 Years

Attorney William M. Finucane has over 30 years’ experience representing clients seeking to purchase real estate in the Adirondack Park and throughout the Adirondacks. If you would like more information about the land use and development restrictions in the park, call (518) 873-6351 or request a consultation online today.

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