Business district could foster Knox Post Office

KNOX — While the town undergoes a review of its comprehensive plan, the planning board is looking over maps for a business district in the hamlet.

During their April meeting, planning board members reviewed a map of a district that would extend through the hamlet, from Knox-Cave Road to near Zimmer road on the western side of the firehouse. Chairman Robert Price stressed the planning board is on the “left-hand side of the learning curve,” and currently has no proposal for the town board.

Vasilios Lefkaditis, a Knox resident and president of the Berne-Knox-Westerlo School Board, is interested in buying the property that was formerly home to the Knox Post Office. He asked at the March planning board meeting about the potential for a business district.

The creation of a district was first suggested by planning board member Daniel Driscoll, former chair of the committee that created the comprehensive plan in the early nineties. Adopted in 1995, the plan recommends the town create business districts to centralize commercial activity.

A 100-foot buffer is required by the zoning ordinance to separate any business district along its border from a residential district. If the planning board forwards its recommendation to the town board, a public hearing will be held.

“I’m just thinking there’re a lot of national register eligible buildings on that side,” planning board member Betty Ketcham said during the April meeting of the southwestern portion of the district. She was referring to the National Register of Historic Places, the federal government’s list of sites and buildings worthy of preservation.

“That’s not to say that, because there’s a very old house in the middle of the business district, it has to be razed to the ground and a McDonald’s put in. It could stay there as a nice old house,” said Price.

Price gave the example of Western Avenue in Guilderland, as having buildings that were once residences now occupied by businesses.

The site along Route 156 of the former Knox Post Office and the Knox Country Store is vacant. The property, now in a residential district, cannot be re-established for commercial use under the zoning ordinance. It is no longer “grandfathered in” since the business closed.

Lefkaditis said his negotiations with Bayview Loan Servicing, which currently owns the property, are stalled until the town creates a business district. He said he has been negotiating for the property for almost two years and last communicated with the United States Postal Service more than 10 months ago.

“I haven’t made up my mind yet. I would not be running the business out of there,” Lefkaditis said on what he would plan for the site. “I would be making the store available for other businesses to operate.” He said people have told him they would be interested in renting for business.

When asked whether he would rent the space to the Postal Service, Lefkaditis said he would be open to that, but its previous lease was “extremely biased” to the tenant.

“When you negotiate a lease, you always negotiate the build-out…how much of it’s going to be done by the landlord; how much of it’s going to be the responsibility of the tenant,” Lefkaditis said.

Dangerous electrical wiring, mold, leaks, and rodents were discovered when the post office closed in November. Knox postal customers are now using a bank of post-office boxes in East Berne.

“I have not had an update,” said Maureen Marion, spokeswoman for the Postal Service in the Northeast. “I know there’s been just a continuous amount of work with the new ownership and the new management group and we’re kind of outside of that, and we’re the tenants.”

The post office was renting half of a house. The other half, Lefkaditis wants to use as his own office space. He works as a manager of Shaw Funding, a real estate equity fund.

Lefkaditis previously purchased property in Berne for office space, which included two houses on either side of the road. The Federal Emergency Management Agency, which deemed the property near the Fox Creek a potential hazard, then purchased the property for demolition.

If the lot in Berne can be split, Lefkaditis said he would use the blue house across from the corner of Routes 156 and 443 for office space, to be closer to the Berne-Knox-Westerlo school and his children.

Knox’s comprehensive plan points out that business districts can result in a net gain for a school district’s tax levy. The benefit to municipal budgets, it says, depends on the nature of the businesses, which could bring heavy use to infrastructure and services.

“It should be noted that businesses do not directly increase enrollment and school services,” the plan states.

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