Knox appointments could shape town’s future

The Enterprise — H. Rose Schneider

Ernie Cupernell was recently appointed to the conservation advisory council. He hopes to use the town’s natural character and resources to promote activities in Knox.

KNOX — Half-a-dozen new appointees serving on planning, zoning, and conservation boards could ultimately change the way Knox is shaped.

The Knox Town Board appointed six people to town positions as well as two new chairmen at its March 13 meeting.

Planning boards in New York State have administrative and regulatory roles, helping to develop a comprehensive land-use plan, making recommendations on new zones such as business districts, as well as reviewing subdivision plats and site plans, and granting special-use permits.

The town board appointed William Pasquini Jr., with a term expiring at the end of 2024, and Todd LaGrange, with a term expiring at the end of 2021, to the planning board. Pasquini and LaGrange did not return calls seeking comment. Pasquini has been an outspoken supporter of Supervisor Vasilios Lefkaditis, frequently speaking out during  board meetings from the gallery.

Lefkaditis in November headed a GOP slate that included two councilmen, elected with him. Voting as a bloc, they have a majority on the five-member board. During his first two years as supervisor, Lefkaditis had been frustrated that many of his proposals for appointments were blocked in votes often split 4 to 1.

Travis O’Donnell, who was appointed to the planning board in December 2016 and whose term had expired at the end of last year, was not reappointed. O’Donnell had disagreed with Lefkatis on several issues, including establishing a new business district at the intersection of routes 156 and 157.

Robert Gwin, a professional engineer who dealt with planning for most of his career working for the state’s Department of Transportation and who had served on the Knox Planning Board for 40 years, had resigned in January.

Gwin had drafted amendments to the town’s lighting ordinance. His colleague, the late Daniel Driscoll, had drafted amendments to the sound ordinance, both of which Lefkaditis opposed, saying that it would affect businesses and pit neighbors against each other, starting a heated debate at a town board meeting.

Gwin submitted a letter to the recent public hearing on the proposed new business district, pointing to the fact that the process to introduce the law was not done properly and that the proposal doesn’t meet legal requirements.

The board had appointed a new planning board chairman, Thomas Wolfe, in January. Wolfe had been the sole planning board member who had favored the new business district while the other board members twice rejected the plan, citing problems with karst topography and well as traffic concerns on a dangerous curve. Lefkaditis had been pushing for the new business district.

Councilman Earl Barcomb abstained from voting on both appointments. The other four board members voted in favor of the appointments.

Barcomb told The Enterprise on Tuesday that he had abstained from voting to appoint Pasquini and LaGrange as well as Dennis Cyr to the zoning board not because he was against these candidates, but because he thought there were better choices.

“The supervisor has made a lot of noise about opening up the process to get the most qualified applicants — that’s not what we’re doing,” he said.

Barcomb said that he felt O’Donnell, who he said is about to complete a master’s degree in planning and has a year’s experience on the board, would have been the more qualified candidate. He also said he felt Pamela Kleppel, who was ousted from the zoning board, was more qualified for the position; she and her husband own a farm in Knox, and Barcomb said she would have helped promote agriculture in town.

“I agree with some of the appointments,” said Barcomb, naming one for the zoning board. “I thought Dana Sherman had a long history in the town … I thought he was an excellent choice.”

Barcomb, a former planning board member, said he believes Lefkaditis has sought to shape the planning and zoning boards with new appointments, enacting new laws such as an attendance policy for the planning and zoning boards, and creating the positions of and serving as an ex-officio member on these boards.

“I’m concerned that the town board really has been micromanaging these boards,” Barcomb said.

Barcomb also decried Lefkaditis’s remarks that cronyism had been an issue in past town appointments. He said that past planning board chairmen Robert Price and Gwin are not registered in a political party, and former chairman Daniel Driscoll was a Republican. He said his father, the late Earl Barcomb Sr., a former longtime zoning board chairman, was not registered in a party. During the decades preceding Lefkaditis’s election, under Supervisor Michael Hammond, the zoning and planning boards had been politically balanced and had many members with backgrounds in planning.

Conservation Advisory Council

The Knox Conservation Advisory Council had also recommended against the new business district.

The town board appointed Kevin Sherman as the conservation advisory council chairman and also appointed Ernie Cupernall to the council, with a term expiring at the end of 2019. Patrick Walter was also going to be appointed, but withdrew his name moments before the meeting began. Instead, Marla Briggs was later appointed to the council with a term ending in 2019. Walter, Kevin Sherman, and Briggs could not be reached for comment.

Cupernall, 65, has lived in Knox for the last five-and-a-half years, and previously lived in Altamont. He recently retired from working for the New York State Insurance Fund and served as an alternate on the Altamont Zoning Board of Appeals before moving to Knox, where he now grows grape vines and fruit trees as a hobby.

Cupernall said that he had indicated to the town board that he’d be willing to serve in any role that would “assist the town in moving forward.”

“I think that Knox is heading in the right direction,” he later said.

One of the reasons Cupernall moved to Knox was because of his love of the outdoors. He was a licensed state guide for five years and led whitewater rafting trips on the Upper Hudson River.

He told The Enterprise last week that he would like to offer more activities for children in Knox, particularly teenagers, including outdoor activities that use the open space and natural character of the town. He also said he’d like a space for people to gather; despite two new restaurants being set up in Knox, he said the town lacks a space for the public to congregate.

Lefkaditis told The Enterprise last Tuesday that the state law sets the terms for conservation advisory council members for either one- or two-year terms; the members had previously had longer terms, but Lefkaditis said this was changed last year, creating the same term lengths for the incoming members.

Of the previous members of the board, Patricia Irwin resigned at the beginning of the year; Lefkaditis said that Erick Kuck and Nate Giordano — the former chairman — did not seek reappointment.

Zoning board

The zoning board, a quasi-judicial board, acts as a safety valve. Its members interpret the town’s zoning law and have the power to grant variances or permits on a case-by-case basis to allow a project outside what is permitted in the zoning ordinance; the zoning board may also recommend to the town board changes to the zoning ordinance.

Doug Roether was appointed as chairman of the Knox Zoning Board of Appeals; former chairman John DeMis had resigned in December, and Roether had been appointed as interim chairman after that.

Dana Sherman and Dennis Cyr were appointed to the zoning board as well, replacing Pamela Kleppel and filling the vacancy left by DeMis. Cyr will serve until the end of 2021, and Sherman until the end of 2024. Barcomb abstained from voting on Cyr’s appointment.

The board intended to appoint Christian Snyder as an alternate on the zoning board, with a term expiring at the end of 2024 but instead agreed to address this at the next meeting. Cyr did not return a call and email for comment; Snyder could not be reached for comment.

On Tuesday, the town board will be meeting to advertise and set a public hearing for a bill that would allow alternate planning or zoning board members to be appointed.

Dana Sherman, 72, told The Enterprise on Tuesday that he has been involved in the town of Knox for his entire live. He served on the Knox Town Board for 16 years — from 1974 to 1990 — and was the chairman of the Knox Fire District Firemen’s Board from 2003 up until this year. He also has been and still is a member of the Knox Volunteer Fire Company for the past 54 years. His son, Dan Sherman, is the town’s building inspector.

“I’ve never not been involved,” the elder Sherman said.

Sherman said that he was familiar with land-use issues from serving on the town board, and said that the zoning board should continue to look into those issues. Some of the topics to be addressed include blight laws for abandoned homes and the major subdivision on Bell Road that is currently under review.

“I’d like to do as much as I can for farmers,” Sherman said. He suggested encouraging barley and hops production in order to take advantage of legislation that dictates “New York State labeled beer” must be made up of a certain amount of ingredients grown in the state.

Roether, a retired electrical contractor and real-estate investor, has lived in Knox for 15 years, and was appointed to the board last January. He is married with two children who attend Berne-Knox-Westerlo schools.

Roether told The Enterprise in an email that he wants to help develop a long-term plan that would best serve town residents. He added that the board is currently examining the town’s zoning ordinance and that he believes the town board should be advised to revise certain aspects.


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