Instead of biz district, Knox is pursuing multi-use zone

The Enterprise — H. Rose Schneider

Raising her hand, Brigitte McAuliffe expresses her concerns about a proposed business district in the town of Knox. 

KNOX — After years of pushing to create a second business district in the town of Knox, Supervisor Vasilios Lefkaditis withdrew its application and is now leading efforts to create a multi-use district in its place.

After the business-district proposal failed in a tied vote twice last year, residents of the proposed district along routes 156 and 157 came forward in a series of public meetings to express their concerns of allowing businesses to be established near their homes. Concerns included potential water and noise pollution, not allowing certain uses such as personal stables, and why the board was again bringing the proposed district to the table.

The town’s planning board had twice recommended against it.

At Tuesday’s meeting, Lefkaditis made a motion to withdraw the application, which the town board unanimously approved, though some warily. The supervisor then proposed establishing a multi-use recreational district. He said the district does not permit dry cleaners or gas stations, which he had described as the “bogeyman” of the recent public hearings. He also said stables would be permitted.

The board voted in favor of starting an application for a multi-use recreational district in a 3-to-2 vote, with council members Kenneth Saddlemire and Karl Pritchard voting in favor of it alongside Lefkaditis — all running mates on the GOP line in the last election. Democratic members Earl Barcomb and Dennis Barber, who were not up for re-election last November, voted against the measure.

According to the town’s zoning ordinance, a multi-use recreational district is intended to allow “limited recreation oriented businesses and residential uses,” as well as to encourage access to recreational activities based on location. Lefkaditis said that the first multi-use recreational district, which sits in the southwest corner of the town, was created to allow for the Foxenkill Tavern.

Auction houses, dance halls, bowling alleys, restaurants or bar-restaurants, retail stores, studios, and theaters are among the types of businesses that would be allowed with a special-use permit from the planning board. Banks, bars, car washes, shopping centers, junkyards, and racing tracks are among the businesses not permitted. Residential homes as well as agricultural facilities with up to two livestock or 15 fowls are permitted; a pig farm is not permitted.

Some residents of the proposed district were concerned about the short time to examine the proposal, as Lefkaditis had initially discussed going before the town and county planning boards by mid-August. Residents also asked why the focus remains on the area of route 156 and 157; Lefkaditis said it was based off a survey taken by townspeople years ago, and added that there are “NIMBYs” in every area, referring to the phrase “not in my backyard.”

Town attorney Javid Afzali said that, because the previous application was withdrawn, an entirely new application will need to be completed. Once the application is completed, it will need to go before the town board and then be referred to the Knox Planning Board and the Albany County Planning Board. The supervisor estimated that it wouldn’t go before the town board for a decision until October or November.

Alternative

Barcomb suggested that, rather than pursuing a new district, the town should re-examine what is permitted for home-based businesses in order to allow home businesses to expand, such as by allowing more employees.

“Those are the kind of businesses that are going to come and thrive in Knox,” Barcomb said.

Planning board Chairman Tom Wolfe, who supports creating a business district, agreed that this type of proposal should be examined as well, and said that the planning board had been looking into this and could renew its investigation.

Before Lefkaditis had announced his new proposal, residents of the proposed business district again voiced concerns in what was the last of a series of public hearings that began in March, including inquiring about a suggestion that those who did not want to be in the district would have their parcels removed.

Brigitte McAuliffe, who had spoken against the district before, noted that an area in the town of New Scotland — which has a much larger population than Knox — had its zoning changed from commercial to either residential or mixed-use. Both she and Amy Pokorny, a former town board member, expressed concerns about the traffic on Route 156. Pokorny later suggested the board consult a town planner.

“We’ve come before the board and we’ve yet to have anyone within this district publicly say they’re for it,” said Arthur Brearton, who had expressed concerns about water quality at earlier meetings.

Later in the meeting, Brearton told Lefkaditis he took issue with how the supervisor had characterized — as the “bogeyman” — concerns about gas stations or dry cleaners. Brearton said that a dry cleaners had contaminated water in his hometown in Wynantskill with a carcinogen — both his parents have since died from a related cancer, he said.

Anti-blight law passes

The board unanimously passed a new law that would require unused property to be registered in town and would prohibit vacant structures from being in blighted conditions. A public hearing preceded the vote in which only one member of the public, Paul Axel-Lute, spoke, saying he had emailed his concerns, which were later addressed in the meeting. Much of Axel-Lute’s concerns were around clarifications, summarizing, and typos.

Such prohibited conditions for unused properties include broken or unsecured windows or doors, excessive litter, overgrown vegetation, and derelict vehicles. Town residents or the town’s building inspector can bring their concerns about such violations to the town.

Properties with vacant structures must be registered within 15 days of a notice served by the town. McAuliffe asked what would happen to someone who is out of town for over two weeks. Lefkaditis said that the application to register the property can be emailed to the town, and noted that some owners of properties with vacant buildings may not even live in the area.

Barber asked if seasonal properties are addressed in the legislation. Lefkaditis said they weren’t, but that the town could be flexible in that regard. Planning board member Robert Price asked if county-owned properties would be affected; Lefkaditis said that these properties would also have to abide by the law. It was noted that there are several vacant properties in town currently owned by the Albany County Land Bank, a county-funded not-for-profit organization that seeks buyers for foreclosed properties.

Other business

In addition, the board also:

— Announced upcoming events, including the Pucker Street Fair at the end of June and a Family Farm Day and flu clinic at the town hall in September;

— Discussed how to mitigate an excess amount of waste at the town transfer station; and

— Hired Daniel Jones and Kevin Delligan to work at the highway department; Glenn Walsh as a park laborer; and Price as the town’s dog-control officer. Walsh and Price are replacing Lou Saddlemire, who resigned at the end of last year, following what he said was a difficult employment under the supervisor.

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