Knox passes hog-farming law and will vote next week on home occupation

The Enterprise — Noah Zweifel
Video: Tuesday's Knox Town Board meeting is recorded by a citizen while another resident watches from home.

KNOX — The Knox Town Board held an “abbreviated” regular board meeting on Feb. 11 despite a lapse in electrical power in the building midway through that was quickly resolved by a generator. Supervisor Vasilios Lefkaditis explained that the regular meeting was split into two, with the second to be held on Feb. 18, due to the large number of agenda items.

The electrical lapse prevented the board from voting on a local law that would allow individuals living in any part of town to operate a business from within their homes under certain conditions. Lefkaditis had intended to use a projector —which apparently didn’t work on generator power — to display documents to the audience that were too complicated to read aloud. 

Currently, the town’s zoning ordinance declares that home-based businesses can employ no one but the property owner and other tenants of the property. The amendment would allow employment of up to two people that are unrelated to the property owner. It also adds “accessory buildings” to the structures from which a business can operate.

The board will vote at the Feb. 18 meeting.
 

Hog farming

The board was able to vote, however, on the town’s first local law of 2020, an amendment that would allow farmers to raise hogs and swine with the same restrictions that apply to all other livestock. The motion passed unanimously.

“Basically, hogs will be treated like cows, horses, chickens, et cetera,” Lefkaditis told the audience after he read the amendment proposal aloud. 

The issue was first brought up by Gary Kleppel, chairman Knox’s Agricultural Committee, in July last year after he heard from residents that they wanted to raise hogs and swine but were limited by the town’s zoning ordinance, which distinguished hogs and swine from other livestock.

“For reasons that are not completely clear,” reads the amendment proposal’s rationale section, “several towns, particularly those that were rapidly urbanizing in the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s, banned or severely restricted hog and swine farming operations. Today it is recognized that properly managed hog farms present no more or less of a potential nuisance than any other livestock (or other kind of agricultural) operation.”

 

New time-limit

Lefkaditis kicked off the meeting by stating he would from then on enforce a three-minute limit on public comments and presentations. 

The first casualty of the limit was Dawn Jordan, who was presenting on behalf of the Helderberg Hilltowns Association. The association is holding its 9th annual Sap Run 5K on March 21, and Jordan was requesting that Street Road be temporarily closed while runners use the street. 

“We’re coming up on a hard stop,” Lefkaditis said as he interrupted Jordan. “That three minutes is the law going forward.”

At that point, the issue moved to board discussion where Jordan was allowed to answer questions from the council members, as well as clarify points.

The board eventually voted to close Street Road from 10 a.m. until 10:45 a.m. the day of the run. 

As the meeting was coming to a close, a resident in the gallery asked Lefkaditis why there was no public comment period, to which he replied, “No reason.”

Lefkaditis told The Enterprise later that there was no public-comment period at the Feb. 11 meeting because it was an “abbreviated” session, but that there would be time for comments at the Feb. 18 meeting.

Public comments have long been a sore spot in town board meetings, as residents often take the opportunity to chide the board, or Lefkaditis in particular, over its actions.

When asked about his combative relationship with these residents last month, Lefkaditis told The Enterprise that it is unfair to characterize him as dismissive of residents’ concerns.

“Over the years, I have been openly criticized for allowing too much back and forth at meetings,” Lefkaditis said, “but I prefer that way.”

He went on to explain, though, that the repetition of comments and questions from “a small group of residents” is frustrating.

“At some point,” Lefkaditis said, “and I believe we’ve reached that point, their behavior becomes deliberate, disruptive, and counterproductive.”

“Constantly entertaining the same concerns and questions takes away from other residents who may wish to be heard at a town board meeting,” Lefkaditis also said.

 

Other business

In other business, the town board: 

— Failed to pass a motion to sign up with Municipal Electric and Gas Alliance, an organization that bands together municipalities to bargain for better rates from power companies. The vote failed, 1 to 4, with councilman Kenneth Saddlemire casting the sole “aye.” The other board members each explained they felt that signing up for a program that would automatically enroll residents of the town unless those residents individually opt out was a poor choice. 

“I don’t feel we should be dictating everyone in the whole town and make them pay and leave it to them to get off of it … I’m not for that,” said Councilman Dennis Cyr. 

Saddlemire argued that he had not heard enough from residents to make a decision one way or the other and that the town would still be able to cancel the agreement with MEGA before a deal is set in stone. Lefkaditis countered that the town’s current energy rate is so low that a community choice aggregate would not be able to compete and that it would be wise to wait a year and see how other towns that have signed up fare; and

— Approved an extended, unpaid leave of absence for transfer station worker Joseph Adriance, which Lefkaditis said was “at [Adriance’s] request.”

 

More Hilltowns News

  • Nexamp has opened up applications for Hilltown residents, promising them discounts of up to 10 percent on their electricity costs for using energy generated by the controversial solar farms located on the old Shepard Farm resort property in Westerlo. 

  • With the U.S. Census Bureau requesting that citizens complete the 2020 census online, small towns and villages are preparing to help residents who don’t have easy access to computers or don’t have the necessary skills to complete a form online so that every town can be counted as accurately as possible, assuring that each gets the federal, state and county aid it needs.

  • Tensions rose but manners prevailed as the Berne Planning Board submitted a letter to its newly appointed chairman, Thomas Spargo, announcing its desire to see a member reinstated who was effectively fired in the middle of her term to make room for Spargo. The planning board cited a recently-filed lawsuit against the town and Spargo as one aspect of the fallout Berne is experiencing after the controversial decision.

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