Building a New Boathouse in the Adirondack Park

“I heard you can’t build a new boathouse in the Adirondack Park – is this true?”
This question comes up rather often while showing waterfront properties.  The answer – Yes you can still build a boathouse.  The confusion stems from a 2009 proposed change in the definition of a boathouse used by the Adirondack Park Agency (APA).  Many property owners were concerned that if the APA was successful in re-defining the term it would become nearly impossible to get a boathouse approved.

Traditionally, boathouses have been regulated by the towns that the boathouse is in; the new regulations supersede any local rules on boathouses.  There was speculation that the APA was trying to increase their oversight of the park by simply changing definitions. The APA argued that “Large structures and intensive use at the shoreline causes unnecessary erosion and adverse impacts to critical habitat and aesthetics and raises questions of fair treatment of
neighboring shoreline properties.”  The APA wasn’t trying to block waterfront structures used to cover boats or even these structures with a deck on top.  They were opposed to property owners building huge structures that weren’t really just boathouses.  In a 2002 change to the definition, the APA limited boathouses to a “single story” but the definition did not prohibit large attics (often used by property owners as guest or recreation rooms) and extensive rooftop decks.

On September 21, 2010 the APA once again changed their definition of a“boathouse”.

A Boathouse is defined as covered structure with direct access to a navigable body of water which

(1) is used only for the storage of boats and associated equipment;

(2) does not contain bathroom facilities, sanitary plumbing, or sanitary drains of any kind;

(3) does not contain kitchen facilities of any kind;

(4) does not contain a heating system of any kind;

(5) does not contain beds or sleeping quarters of any kind;

(6) does not exceed a single story in that the roof rafters rest on the top plate of the first floor wall, and all rigid roof surfaces have a minimum pitch of four on twelve, or, alternatively, one flat roof covers the entire structure; (Flat-roofed boathouses continue to be allowed even if the roof is used as a deck and includes safety railings. The deck covers the entire boathouse structure and cannot be constructed above a sloping roof.)

(7) has a footprint of 1200 square feet or less measured at the exterior walls (or in the absence of exterior walls, at the perimeter of the roof), and a height of fifteen feet or less. For the purpose of this definition, the height of a boathouse shall be measured from the surface of the floor serving the boat berths to the highest point of the structure.

Lawful existing boathouse structures may be repaired or replaced within the existing building envelop.  For those who wish to exceed the size parameters or expand a larger existing boathouse, a variance will be required.”  For more information visit http://apa.ny.gov/Documents/Flyers/boathouses.pdf

So what do you do first if you plan on building a new boathouse? The first step is to find out if the APA has jurisdiction over your property by submitting a “Jurisdictional Inquiry Form” including the property tax ID#, a copy of the current recorded deed, a description of the project in question and a sketch.  The form can be found here www.apa.state.ny.us/Forms/jiform.pdf. If you have questions the APA can be reached at 518-891-4050.

Next, contact local zoning and see what they have to say.   Although you will need a building permit, the Town of Webb (Old Forge, Eagle Bay, Big Moose Lake) will allow one boathouse and one dock per dwelling with not more than one dock per 100 feet of frontage; anything more requires Planning Board Approval.  Docks shall not extend further than forty feet or exceed a 6 foot depth of water, whichever comes first.  Docks can not interfere with waterflow, navigation or the access to adjoining lots.  Docks cannot be wider than 8 feet or exceed 300 feet in area.  Docks and Boathouses are subject to a 25′ setback for the sides of the lot.  The Town of Webb Zoning Office can be reached at (315) 369-3001.

Next you need to contact the Army Corps of Engineers and the New York State Department of Environment Conservation, they both have a say in this process.  You will have to fill out the following application http://www.lrb.usace.army.mil/regulatory/jointapp2008instructions.pdf

If you are in Herkimer, Lewis or Oneida County you can reach the Army Corps of Engineer Buffalo Office at (716) 879-4330; if you are in Hamilton or Fulton County call the Upstate NY Field Office (518) 266-6360.  You may also need a Protection of Waters Permit from the DEC.  If you are constructing, reconstructing or repairing a docking facility for five or fewer boats and encompassing within its perimeter an area less than 4,000 square feet your project is likely exempt from requiring the permit, however you need to call 518-402-9167 to be sure.  If you would like additional information please visit this site http://www.dec.ny.gov/permits/6550.html

While boathouses are still allowed there are many steps to the process and several organizations to deal with!  I hope that this information has been helpful.