The measure authorized the state legislature to settle longstanding disputes between the state and private landowners over ownership of parcels of land in the town of Long Lake, Hamilton County, located in the Adirondack Forest Preserve. In exchange for giving up claims to the disputed parcels, the state shall acquire land for the forest preserve from landowner payments over time. Estimations projected that landowners would pay $600,000.
Prior to Proposal 4, there were 1,000 acres of land around Raquette Lake that were claimed by both the state and private landowners. According to reports, the dispute was generated by a series of possibly illegal tax sales in the late 1800s.
Below are the unofficial election results as of November 7 at 5:00 pm, with 62 out 62 counties reporting.
The proposed amendment to section 1 of article 14 of the Constitution would authorize the Legislature to settle longstanding disputes between the State and private entities over ownership of certain parcels of land in the town of Long Lake, Hamilton County. In exchange for giving up its claim to disputed parcels, the State would get land to be incorporated into the forest preserve that would benefit the forest preserve more than the disputed parcels currently do. Shall the proposed amendment be approved?
Notwithstanding the foregoing provisions, the legislature may authorize the settlement, according to terms determined by the legislature, of title disputes in Township Forty, Totten and Crossfield purchase in the Town of Long Lake, Hamilton County, to resolve longstanding and competing claims of title between the state and private parties in said town- ship, provided that prior to, and as a condition of such settlement, land purchased without the use of state-appropriated funds, and suitable for incorporation in the forest preserve within the Adirondack Park, shall be conveyed to the state on the condition that the legislature shall determine that the property to be conveyed to the state shall provide a net benefit to the forest preserve as compared to the township forty lands subject to such settlement.
This is a map of Township 40 from 1900, the region where the land parcels are disputed. Click on the image for an expanded version.
Titles to 216 parcels of land, equating to approximately 1,000 acres, on the shores of Raquette Lake in Long Lake, Hamilton County, New York, were in dispute for the past century. The land was originally incorporated into New York, which was a colony at the time, as the "Totten and Crossfield Purchase" in 1771 and was known as "Township 40." The state claimed that the lands under dispute were purchased from private residents in tax sales in the late 1800s. Both the state and private residents, a utilities company, a fire department and a public school had conflicting ownership claims on the land. Some disputes were resolved in courts, but others were not due to the lack of ownership proof by any of the parties. Because the residents did not have clear and obvious titles to the land, many were denied title insurances and certain loans. Attempted once in 2007, private landowners backed out of an exchange due to what they deemed to be too high of fees demanded by the state.
The measure was sponsored by State Senator Betty Little (R-45) and was approved unanimously by the New York legislature in 2013.
A supporting campaign video by Vote Yes for Proposition 4
According to Sen. Betty Little (R-45), "This resolution is very, very good. We'll save the state of New York a lot of money in litigation. And we'll save the people involved in those parcels of land a lot of money in litigation as well."
The measure would remove financial costs and uncertainty surrounding the century long dispute, while making additions to the state forest.
Arguments against Proposal 4 included:
The measure sets a poor precedent for other land disputes in the region. Approval would essentially invite other private individuals to dispute property.
The appropriate means for settling these disputes is through the judiciary, which supplies transparency and independent authority, not a ballot measure.
The fees accrued in the exchange will not be equivalent to the land being given away by the state.
Adirondack Daily Enterprise said, "[S 4689] would settle Township 40, the queen of all property title disputes, which predates both the Adirondack Park and the Forest Preserve...Never before has this mess been so close to being resolved. Please vote yes to unknot it, hopefully once and for all."
Adirondack Explorer said, "The state loses nothing of real value, just theoretical claims to properties that have no public benefit. And it gains—at a bargain price—a tangible expansion of the Forest Preserve with direct benefit to canoeists and other members of the public. The amendment clearly deserves support."
Albany Times Union said, “Proposal 4 would allow a series of land swaps of about 1,000 acres between the state and these homeowners to clear up these titles and allow all involved to close the book and save the cost of continued, needless litigation. We recommend a "yes" vote.”
The Buffalo News said, "Proposal 4 would settle conflicts over land ownership in the Adirondack Forest Preserve dating back more than a century. Owners of more than 200 lots would pay a fee for a clear title to their land, and that money would be used to purchase other land elsewhere. Those landowners and the state would both come out ahead."
The Herald-Leader said, “Together, the two state propositions would preserve Adirondack land and protect jobs - and cost taxpayers nothing. We see no logical reason to oppose the efforts.”
Livingston County News said, “The amendment clarifies an ancient wrong and should be approved.”
New York Times said, "It would allow the owners to stay and receive clear title; in exchange, they would donate property or money to purchase lands of equal or greater value that would be added to state’s forest preserve."
The Observer said, “If passed, the amendment would allow private citizens to retain the land, and the government would buy other property for a net profit.”
Post Star said, "Fairness is the issue with Prop. 4. More than 200 landowners in the Raquette Lake area have been paying taxes on property they bought in good faith. Granting them clear titles is the right thing to do, and the deal will benefit the state by enlarging and improving the Forest Preserve."
Watertown Daily Times said, "The amendment clarifies an ancient wrong and should be approved."
Proposal 4 was referred to the ballot after being approved by both houses in successive terms by simple majority. S4689 was approved for a second time by the New York State Senate on June 12, 2013. S4689 was approved for a second time by the New York State Assembly on June 19, 2013.
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