Of the three propositions on the New York state ballot Tuesday, voters rejected the question asking for a constitutional convention but approved public pension forfeiture and a Forest Preserve land bank. The question on a land bank was close, but Adirondack and Catskill concerns are relieved that it passed.
Proposition 3 asked voters to approve the creation of a reserve of 250 acres of land to be added to the Forest Preserve that towns, villages and communities can draw from when they need to do small public health and safety projects on Forest Preserve lands. It’s essentially a land swap to substitute the used land for new Forest Preserve land. Unofficial results show that voters approved the question 52 to 48 percent.
Adirondack Council spokesman John Sheehan says the vote was closer than they wanted but will help the Forest Preserve. “Overall this will be good for communities long term, give them the flexibility they need to remain sustainable, but also help them realize that the Forest Preserve is really a benefit to their community and something that can help them to prosper long term. I think that this does help to reinforce support for the Forever Wild clause which is good. Ultimately it won't have a material impact on the Forest Preserve. Two hundred fifty acres doesn't really have much of an impact overall on a three million acre Forest Preserve. So I think that this was a modest proposal that people decided to embrace and I'm glad that they decided to do that.”
Adirondack Park Local Government Review Board Executive Director Fred Monroe says the land bank will allow local communities to move forward with small but critical projects. “The lack of ability to do small scale projects that are important for health and safety using small amounts of Forest Preserve has been a real aggravating factor for local government and I think it's been very important that environmentalist groups saw that and worked with us to get this thing passed. I think it's very encouraging for the Adirondacks in general and for local communities in particular because they can work on these health and safety projects and move forward with them where without the amendment they couldn’t, without doing specific constitutional amendments in each case.”
Adirondack and Catskill communities will now be able to complete improvements such as fixing roads, improving water systems and wells, and creating bike paths without seeking statewide voter approval. But there are still some caveats. Although the land account will be available, Sheehan notes the state legislature must approve each project. “That was important to everybody to make sure that there were safeguards that could reassure the public and advocates that this wouldn't be abused in the future. It took close to six years to negotiate the terms of this.”
Deputy Policy Director of the Nature Conservancy in New York Amanda Lefton says voter approval of the proposition removes a significant obstacle — the requirement that Adirondack and Catskill communities needed constitutional amendments for each project no matter how small. “Not only will the communities go through a process where they show that there is no feasible alternative other than utilizing these forest lands, they’ll also have to go through the state’s environmental review and then there is additional review before the legislature. Fortunately this is still less burdensome than the current system in which they would need to go to the legislature two consecutive years and then of course go to the voters for each individual project.”
New York state will now acquire and create the 250-acre land bank in the Forest Preserve. Communities can then apply for approval of projects.