Vote on biz district fails again in tie

KNOX — A town-board vote Tuesday on a proposed business district was tied 2 to 2, once again failing to pass. The debate was a precursor to a hotly contested November election.

Supervisor Vasilios Lefkaditis had made a motion to reconsider creating a second business district along the intersection of routes 156 and 157 in town, after it had tied at the July 11 town board meeting in a two-to-two vote. Councilman Daniel Hanley was absent from the five-member board that night. During the August meeting on Tuesday, Hanley was present, but Councilman Earl Barcomb was not, leading to another tied vote.

Hanley said he had listened to a recording of the July meeting, as well as the public hearing on the proposed business district which preceded it.

“There were some excellent points brought up,” he said. “People want businesses in Knox — the people overall...there was some question as to what type of business.”

Hanley, who is currently up for re-election in the fall, said that, when he was elected in 2016, he had run on a platform of maintaining Knox as it is.

“I like Knox the way it is,” he said on Tuesday. “I want a place to raise my family.”

Hanley also noted a letter read at the hearing from a resident of the proposed district against it being established, as well as statements from the town’s planning board and Conservation Advisory Council, which he said he found difficult to disagree with. The planning board had voted again in January to recommend against establishing the new district, which resulted in the town board proceeding to host a hearing on its own.

Hanley added that businesses should have a centralized, walkable location, referencing the current sole business district in Knox’s hamlet, which has no businesses.

Hanley voted no to the proposed district, as did Councilwoman Amy Pokorny. Pokorny, who is running against Lefkaditis for supervisor, said that there is already a business district in town that could be a location for “mom and pop” stores. Pokorny and her husband once ran the now-closed general store in the hamlet. Lefkaditis, who later bought it from another owner and restored it, said last month that he had sold this spring it to the owners of the Berne general store Fox Creek Market.

Pokorny said she’d first like to see a study conducted to determine if a sewer district should be created in the original business district.

Pokorny also noted environmental concerns about the district, including karst geology — in which rocks such as limestone are eroded by surface water or groundwater to create pockets which pollutants can be carried through — as well as the fact that Altamont’s unused reservoir is downhill of the district.

“The EPA [Environmental Protection Agency] is being dismantled, we’re losing our environmental protections at the federal level,” she said.

Pokorny stated that, while the state and county are environmentally conscious, this is not the case at the federal level. She said the Knox would be best to rely on home rule to protect itself.

“I think, in the future, we really can’t guarantee we’ll have the same protections at the other levels, and home rule has served us well in the past,” she said.

Knox won a landmark case, decided by the state’s highest court, allowing it to have more stringent water requirements than the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation.

In the gallery, farmer Laura Martin; Dennis Cyr, a small-business owner who makes prosthetic limbs and braces; and Tom Wolfe, the one planning board member who had voted to recommend a second business district, spoke in favor of the proposed district.

“You want letters?” Cyr asked Hanley, referencing the one written against a new district. “I can probably get a petition [for the district].”

Cyr used his business as an example of something, he said, that people doubted would be successful and instead was, to suggest that businesses should have an opportunity to be started.

Wolfe noted that Cyr’s business is allowed under a provision in the zoning ordinance that lets businesses operate in a home provided no one other than those occupants work there, and suggested that, should Cyr want to enlarge his business to include other employees, he would have to look elsewhere.

Cyr received approval from the village of Altamont to have a business on Maple Avenue in the hopes of moving his shop — Mountainview Prosthetics; he is renovating the former firehouse.

Wolfe also emphasized points he had made at the public hearing, that the safety of road cuts at the intersection of routes 156 and 157 could be determined by the New York State Department of Transportation; and that putting a septic system in an area where there is karst geology can be evaluated by the Albany County Department of Health.

Both Martin and Lefkaditis questioned the argument of karst geology as a reason not to establish a business district, with Martin stating that agriculture was a more formidable pollutant than septic systems.

“The only thing that’s going to pollute it is what’s already going on,” she said.

Lefkaditis brought forth a report compiled by the planning board arguing against a cell tower for reasons such as karst geology, and noted that the tower had been built and was providing service to many at the meeting.

“If the town board didn’t have the foresight to overturn the planning board’s decision, none of us would have cell phone coverage,” he said.

Travis O’Donnell, a planning board member, had sent a letter stating that the town would need to become more business-friendly before establishing business district to be read at the July public hearing. He advocated at Tuesday’s meeting for simply changing laws in the zoning ordinance to allow businesses to more easily be established — such as allowing more than one employee in a home business with a special use permit.

“That’s not going to take years, that’s one number,” he said.

Both Councilman Dennis Barber — who had said at the last meeting that he hoped to see more small businesses that would employ and encourage young people to stay in town — and Lefkaditis voted yes to establishing a second business district.

Lefkaditis has long pushed for more business districts in town, running successfully on that platform two years ago, and at the last meeting said a business district would be “legitimizing” existing businesses in that area — a woodshop, a plant nursery, a closed restaurant, and a storage barn.

“Wait for the campaign literature — everyone’s pro-business,” said Lefkaditis, following the vote.

“We already got the campaign literature, just now,” said Hanley.

“What? What is he saying?” asked someone in the audience.

“The whole time, that’s what that was,” said Hanley.

“You don’t think my points are valid?” Lefkaditis asked Hanley. “Those are valid points.”

“Can we have a meeting?” asked a voice from the gallery.

 

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