Business district created in Knox hamlet

The Enterprise — Marcello Iaia

Visioning: Gerard Chartier, who chairs Berne’s planning board, was one of several people who spoke during the public hearing on April 8 for a proposed business district in the Knox hamlet. He suggested that the board conduct meetings, possibly as it revises the town’s comprehensive plan, where residents review example photos of structures and help define the language in the resolution for the business district that supported historic features. Berne had done the same for its historic districts, he said. The professional planner Nan Stolzenburg, used by both towns, called them “visioning meetings,” he said. Chartier, chairman of the planning board in Berne, said during the public hearing he was representing his son, Jesse, who owns property in the district. Listening, at left, is Vasilios Lefkaditis, who owns the former general store and post office in the Knox hamlet.

KNOX — The town board unanimously designated a business district for the Knox hamlet, where a general store, a gas station, and a post office are vacant.

The town’s zoning ordinance will be changed to reflect an area where commercial activity is allowed, subject to site-plan approval. The parameters for such uses were written into the town’s zoning law and encouraged by a comprehensive plan adopted in 1995, but no business districts had been designated until now.

The proposed area in the hamlet, known as “Business District 1,” was developed in recent months during the same period as a separate area, known as “Business District 2,” on Route 146. The proposed second district, which contains a towing business, is the more controversial of the two, as the towing business was cited for operating in a residential district and supporters attended meetings, calling on the town board to amend the zoning ordinance.

After receiving a recommendation by the planning board to create the second business district, town board members expressed support for the notion last month but voted unanimously to postpone designating the second district as they revise the comprehensive plan.

The business district in the hamlet, along Route 156, was enlarged by the town board’s request following a public hearing. The board’s original proposal was for a half-dozen parcels. Vasilios Lefkaditis, a Berne-Knox-Westerlo School Board member and a manager of Shaw Funding, a real-estate equity fund, sought the district at the planning board about a year ago.

Lefkaditis purchased the property of the former general store and post office. He told The Enterprise he would like to have a gas station and convenience store. “Whether or not they’ll allow it, that’s a different story,” Lefkaditis said of the town. He said gas companies are conducting feasibility studies of the site. Asked the reason for his endeavor, he said, “We need it. It costs us five dollars to get a gallon of gas.”

Pamela Fenoff, a vocal supporter of both business districts, told The Enterprise the board’s resolution on Tuesday didn’t give her confidence in its development of the second district. Fenoff, who works as secretary to the planning board, pointed at the list of business uses, noting they generally require planning board approval to be allowed.

Both Fenoff and incumbent supervisor, Michael Hammond, expressed a commitment to business opportunity in the town ahead of the November election.

“I really didn’t think they’d ever pass it,” Fenoff told The Enterprise of the resolution creating the hamlet business district. She suggested the large numbers in attendance at recent meetings persuaded the board.

About 23 people were in the gallery on April 8, several of them residents from within the hamlet, where each household was notified of the public hearing with a letter.

Kathleen “Merricat” Blakeman, who lives in the hamlet, asked why the size of the district, including many homes, was necessary. She said opportunities exist for small, home occupation businesses. Blakeman designs and makes jewelry from her home in a business called Fine Feathers.

“We’re looking to the future here where other areas could possibly be included into this and by making this a mixed-use area, it doesn’t affect those people that have homes on it in those areas, and it allows for future expansion,” said Hammond.

The business uses in the new district require site-plan approval by the planning board. Robert Price, the planning board’s chairman, explained during the April 8 meeting that a buffer required for business districts in the ordinance is up to his board’s review and depends on the proposed business and the property.

The town board modified its resolution on Tuesday to change the description of the buffer strip from being between the district and any adjoining residential properties to being between each parcel of business property and adjoining residential property.

The district will accommodate both residential and business activities. Price said anyone residing in the hamlet or operating a small business as a home occupation use will not have to do anything differently to conform to the ordinance.

Other business

In other business, the town board:

— Heard from James Gage and his sister, Patricia Gage, about their suggestion to create a community garden on town-owned land. Anyone in Knox who wants a plot can have one to grow whatever desired, Pat Gage said.

“I’m going to till it and there’s water there,” said James Gage. “All it takes is ambition.”

“I come from the old way,” he said, noting people could save money if they grew their own food. He eventually left the meeting room, apparently frustrated with the board’s deliberation over the idea.

Hammond suggested an area of the town park could be used, as well. He said the key would be to find enough residents who in a rural setting would make use of the plots and asked Pat Gage to solicit interest;

— Discussed whether to paint or install vinyl siding to renew the aged exterior on the Saddlemire Homestead used as the town’s history museum.

John Elberfeld, the Knox Historical Society’s treasurer, said his organization would like the historic building’s siding addressed somehow and understands the board has to control costs. He said the society generally agreed that vinyl would protect the building for a long time.

The board agreed to issue a request for proposals on work for both painting and vinyl siding and look at the quality of the responses;

— Reviewed the town’s tax exemption for veterans, requested by resident Edward Ackroyd. The maximum dollar amounts by which the exemption lowers a property’s assessed value are set by local taxing jurisdictions within state parameters.

In Knox, Assessor Russell Pokorny told The Enterprise, the reductions are $6,000 for wartime service, an additional $10,000 for combat service, and up to an additional $20,000 for disabled veterans. The taxes that eligible veterans don’t pay are made up by the non-veteran property owners in the town.

“When the state sets these things up, they sort of hand us a hot potato,” Hammond said of the local option.

Ackroyd, a Vietnam war veteran, said he is embarassed by Knox’s exemption levels, noting nearby towns have much higher levels. He asked the board to raise the reduction limit.

Board members said they would consult the town’s assessor to learn more about the impacts of changes to the exemption; and

— Heard from Councilwoman Amy Pokorny, who is leading the process of revising the town’s comprehensive plan, report on recommendations by planner Nan Stolzenburg to adjust a survey for residents. Residents in the gallery, including Albany County Legislator Travis Stevens, stressed that the surveys need to be secure and traceable, so individuals can’t skew the results.

Vasilios Lefkaditis expressed concern over open-ended questions.

“It gives you an open-ended avenue to do whatever you want,” he told the town board, which Pokorny said is ultimately responsible for revising the plan with public input.

The board authorized Hammond to discuss the survey method with Stolzenburg.

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