Proposed Knox MRD shot down by county planning board

Enterprise file photo — H. Rose Schneider
A map of a proposed multi-use recreational district at the intersection of routes 156 and 157 shows parcels of land, highlighted in yellow, that would be part of the district. The proposed district was disapproved of on Monday by the Albany County Planning Board.

KNOX — The Albany County Planning Board has for the second time struck down a proposed new district for the area at the intersection of routes 156 and 157 in the town of Knox, this time a multi-use recreational district.

The planning board made a decision to disapprove of the proposed district without prejudice at its monthly meeting on Monday, Feb. 25. The district would have included 11 parcels surrounding the intersection, totaling around 80 acres that are currently zoned either agricultural or residential.

An attempt to change the zoning in that particular area has been pursued by Vasilios Lefkaditis since he became Knox’s supervisor in 2016. Lefkaditis did not return a call seeking comment.

After the county board’s decision, the town board may now approve an MRD only with a vote of a supermajority vote, according to state law. The Knox Town Board, which has five members, would need four to approve the new district. The board, which often splits controversial votes along party lines, 3 to 2, has two Democratic councilmen and two who ran with Lefkaditis in 2017 on the Republican line.

Last June, following two failed town board votes to approve of a business district at that intersection, as well as a disapproval by the county planning board, Lefkaditis moved to withdraw the application for the proposed business district and instead proposed a multi-use recreational district, saying that, unlike a business district, dry cleaners or gas stations would be exempt. Residents of the proposed district had at prior meetings expressed concerns about water contamination from such industries.

Quite a few residents of the proposed multi-use recreational district told the town board they did not want to be part of it and so a patchwork of a map was drawn up, leaving those properties out of the would-be district.

The town board was acting on its own rather than going through the Knox Planning Board, as is typical with such proposals, because the planning board had twice rejected the proposed business district, citing environmental and traffic safety concerns.

An MRD is intended to allow “limited recreation oriented businesses and residential uses,” as well as to encourage access to recreational activities based on location, according to the town’s zoning ordinance. Businesses such as auction houses, dance halls, and restaurants would be allowed with a special-use permit from the planning board.

In a nearly identical response to its disapproval of a proposed business district at the intersection, the county planning board gave the following reasons for deciding against a multi-use recreational district:

— Incompatibility with surrounding land uses and community character;

— Potential impacts to traffic and county and state roads;

— Inadequate infrastructure, and lack of plans for the provision of infrastructure;

— Potential environmental impacts and water quality concerns; and

— Inconsistency with the town’s comprehensive plan.

The county planning board advised that the town should first update its comprehensive plan before rezoning; consider the feasibility of providing the necessary infrastructure; and contact the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets before rezoning to assess any restrictions to farming in an agricultural district.

Brigitte McAuliffe, a resident of the proposed district and an outspoken opponent of it, said she attended the county board’s meeting and had told the board that the town had not responded to any of the suggestions given by the planning board when the town had proposed a business district.

She also said she pointed out that a number of parcels of land were removed from the district, including her own, but that her property became boxed in by parcels that were in the district.

“Now, we’ve got a spot-zoning issue,” she said.

Last summer, McAuliffe and her husband filed public integrity complaints with the New York State Attorney General’s Office against the town board over its vote to move forward on the multi-use recreational district. McAuliffe said that she had reached out to the attorney general’s office several weeks ago in order to modify her complaint to include the recent revelation that the supervisor had not submitted the town’s 2016 annual report until this month, despite saying last April that it had been filed.

Robert Price, a member of the town’s planning board, said that he attended the Feb. 25 meeting to speak against the proposed district and had explained to the county board that the town had first established a multi-use recreational district in the southwest corner of Knox because a restaurant and auction house — which have since closed — had already existed there at the time, and that it was thought more businesses would join the two. None have.

The only business district in Knox is in the hamlet, which has one plaza operating a seasonal restaurant and a dog-grooming business.

The proposed multi-use recreational district does have a handful of small, mostly home-based businesses, including a woodshop and a greenhouse. Price also said he mentioned concerns about driving conditions along the roads there.

Planning board Chairman Tom Wolfe was at the Feb. 25 meeting, too. He told The Enterprise that he wasn’t trying to defend the proposed district but had tried to correct statements made by Price and McAuliffe at the meeting.

Wolfe also said that concerns Price made about karst geography had already been addressed in the proposal from the town; Wolfe said that any projects would need review by the county’s department of health before being approved in a multi-use recreational district anyway, so he didn’t see these as concerns.

Wolfe said that the discussion of needed public infrastructure is irrelevant due to the low population of the town. Knox had 2,692 residents when the last federal census was conducted in 2010.

Wolfe was critical of the county planning board’s assessment of the town’s proposal.

“Few of the Albany County Planning Board members had done more than give a cursory glance at the document,” said Wolfe.

At the time the Knox Planning Board rejected the proposed business district, Wolfe had been the only dissenting member, favoring the business district. Wolfe was Lefkaditis’s choice to chair the planning board, replacing its long-time chairman, Price.

Wolfe said this week that the Knox Planning Board was given the town’s proposal for the multi-use recreational district a few weeks before its February meeting and reviewed it then. The town’s planning board has to offer a recommendation to the town board within 45 days of receiving the proposal. He said that he is currently not sure what he will vote to recommend.

“It is a fluid situation,” he said on Wednesday.

Price said that at the last town planning board meeting when members reviewed the proposal for the multi-use recreational district they found incomplete work and missing pages.

Wolfe said that there are no omissions in the proposal, but said that some town planning board members had suggested that certain sections of the environmental assessment form could have been addressed or better addressed.

Wolfe said that McAuliffe had alleged at the county meeting that the town planning board was preparing to add new types of businesses that are allowed in a multi-use recreational district, which he said is not true.

McAuliffe responded through The Enterprise that she was speaking about the town planning board’s discussion of home businesses; members have been debating whether a home business would have to abide by the limits of the zoning district it exits in or whether it would be exempt. She said that she was voicing her concerns that a home business would need only a special-use permit in any district and not have to be concerned about restrictions.


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