MRD, CCA, and swine in Knox will wait till October

Katy Vescio

The Enterprise — Melissa Hale-Spencer
Katy Vescio, custom relationship manager for the Municipal Electric and Gas Alliance, tells the Knox Town Board about Community Choice Aggregation.

KNOX — Decisions on pig farms, Community Choice Aggregation, and a multi-use residential district are slated for next month’s Knox Town Board meeting, Oct. 8.

Tuesday’s board meeting opened with comments on a continued public hearing on the controversial district for an MRD at routes 156 and 157 proposed by Superintendent Vasilios Lefkaditis.

Lefkaditis said after the hearing in August that he wanted to formulate responses to some of the statements made then.

“Last month, you wanted a second public hearing because you wanted to respond to some of the things that were said,” Brigitte McAuliffe reminded Lefkaditis on Tuesday. “Are you prepared to do that?”

“I am not,” responded Lefkaditis.

At last month’s hearing, McAuliffe described the district as “textbook spot-zoning.” She and her husband requested to have their property removed from the proposed district. Other residents of the district made similar requests and had their lands removed, too.

Lefkaditis had originally proposed a business district in the area around routes 156 and 157, which failed twice to pass a town board vote in 2017. Currently, the town has only one business district, in the Knox hamlet.

After residents criticized the proposed business district, Lefkaditis pulled that proposal and instead proposed a multi-use recreational district, or MRD, for the same area. He said that it answered residents’ concerns about well-water contamination because an MRD would exclude businesses like dry cleaners and gas stations.

Knox currently has just one MRD, located in the southwestern corner of town.

Because the Albany County Planning Board voted to disapprove of the proposed MRD, the town board may now approve of the district only with a supermajority vote, or four of the five board members, according to state law.

Tuesday, Councilman Earl Barcomb pushed to close the hearing and have the board vote on the MRD.

Lefkaditis said he didn’t want to move forward without the town attorney, Javid Afzali, whom he said was in Israel on business.

“We need to cross our t’s and dot our i’s,” said Lefkaditis.

Barcomb said he had shared Lefkaditis’s email to the board with Afzali and that Afzali had responded that Lefkaditis’s rendition of Afzali’s advice to wait “is a stretch.”

Barcomb made a motion to close the hearing and vote on the MRD; his motion was seconded by the other Democratic councilman, Dennis Barber.

The three board members elected on the Republican ticket — Lefkaditis, and councilmen Karl Pritchard and Ken Saddlemire — voted against the motion.

“We can hear from the public in October, hear from Javid, and vote in October,” said Lefkaditis.

The vote went the same way on continuing the hearing, with the three Republicans voting for it and the two Democrats voting against it.


Katy Vescio, custom relationship manager for the Municipal Electric and Gas Alliance, gave a lengthy presentation on Community Choice Aggregation.

The Enterprise has a detailed description of the program in its Home & Garden section this week.

“MEGA is a nonprofit run by an unpaid board of county officials,” Vescio told the Knox board.

CCA allows local governments to procure power on behalf of their residents, using residents’ collective buying power to drive down costs while allowing the municipalities to choose the source of the electricity generation. 

“The goal of CCA is to get better rates, bottom line,” Vescio told the board on Tuesday.

Forty-thousands households are needed and Vescio estimated MEGA already has municipalities signed on with about 30,000 households with several more municipalities making decisions in the next week or two, she said.

“It all sounds awesome, almost too good to be true … What’s the risk?” asked Knox resident Joan Adriance from the gallery.

Vescio responded that the program was designed by lawmakers to prevent predatory practices.

The Knox board will decide at its next meeting whether to take the first non-binding step to have the town participate in the CCA. If the process goes forward, individual Knox households can opt out or opt back in at any point without penalties.

Pig farms

Gary Kleppel, who chairs the town’s Agricultural Advisory Committee, had told the town board in July that several Knox residents want to raise pigs but the current zoning is a stumbling block.

On Tuesday, Kleppel presented the board with his committee’s research and proposal for changing the zoning law.

Currently the law, in two places, lists a farm for hog or swine as separate and distinct from the general farming definition.

Kleppel recommended removing those two references. 

“That means hog and swine farms would be treated as any other livestock operation,” he said.

Currently, the zoning allows pigs only in the agricultural or agricultural-and-mining districts with a special-use permit, unlike other livestock. Why swine should have been treated differently in the zoning, Kleppel said, “no one seems to know.”

Kleppel said that swine are “no more or less a potential nuisance” than any other livestock.

Kleppel, a professor emeritus of biology at the University at Albany and a farmer himself, said he researched the state’s Agriculture and Markets Law and learned that setting limits in an agricultural district may violate its function.

Kleppel also said that no less than 12 agencies — state, federal, and county — “will get involved if you create a nuisance in your town.”

He said, too, that there are many non-government agencies looking out for the welfare of animals.

The Knox Planning Board will consider the proposal at its Thursday meeting.

“The committee recommends a well-managed farm will not create a nuisance, whether it’s horses or sheep or hogs,” Kleppel concluded.

The town board unanimously voted to hold a public hearing on the proposed zoning amendments on Oct. 8 at 7 p.m.

Other business

In other business, the board:

— Approved three agreements, including a five-year lease with three five-year extensions with Hudson Valley Wireless, to provide broadband in Knox.

Lefkaditis called it a “David-and-Goliath” story, stating that Hudson Valley Wireless will have a spot on the Knox tower to cover all of Knox that is underserved but the southeast corner.

“They have to start spending money,” he said, or HVC would lose its state financing.

Lefkaditis said the town will get 53 percent of the $6,000 HVC pays annually and HVC will also provide “free broadband for life” to the town hall, town pavilion, transfer station, fire company, the highway department, the Saddlemire Homestead museum, and the two churches in town — Knox Reformed and the Rock Road Chapel.

He estimated the total annual savings for taxpayers at $10,000.

“The goal is by the end of the year, we should have it up and running,” said Lefkaditis;

— Heard a lengthy presentation from Robert Scardamalia, a partnership specialist working for the United States Census Bureau, who noted a census every 10 years is a constitutional requirement on which representation in Congress depends and on which federal funding for highways, schools, and hospitals is based.

“Everybody’s information is absolutely protected by federal law,” he said, noting residents will be able to respond to census surveys through the internet, by telephone, or through paper surveys.

Local workers will be hired, he said, to “knock on doors” of residents who have not answered surveys;

— Heard an enthusiastic presentation on the Knox Youth Council’s inaugural swimming-lesson program, held at Camp Lovejoy from July 8 to 12. The program served students in kindergarten through sixth grade, 69 in all, who live in Berne, Knox, or Westerlo.

Molly Tiffany reported that survey results from parents and lifeguards were “all positive.” Her daughter, Sarah Tiffany, an instructor in the program, put together a charming slideshow, which onlookers heartily applauded.

Cindy Mosbey, an instructor who wrote the course curriculum, thanked the board for its support.  The lessons, which were free for kids, were taught by volunteer instructors with high-school students volunteering as assistants. The cost for use of the facility and lifeguards totaled about $1,200.

“We gave them a lifetime skill,” said Mosbey who noted, “It’s been a long time since kids on the Hill had instruction.”

Swimming instructor and schoolteacher Bill Dergosits and Anna Lefkaditis, the supervisor’s wife, were also instrumental in running the program;

— Heard from Lefkaditis that the community room in the basement of the town hall is ready to be booked. It was officially put in use last week, he said, and has already been booked by a group that builds robots and by a program for special-needs adults to dance. Residents can contact town clerk Traci Schanz to book the room, he said;

—Reviewed a code of conduct written by Barber, requiring employees “to conduct themselves with integrity, honesty, dignity and respect” and requiring residents to obey “transfer station employees’ instructions, no foul language, be courteous and honest.”

Anyone with comments on the proposed code are to contact Barber, who will have parts of it put on a sign to be displayed at the town’s transfer station.

“The goal is to make a sign,” said Lefkaditis, “so when someone is acting like an idiot at the transfer station, they can point to a sign”;

— Agreed to contact county legislators to try to  improve the safety of the intersection of Pleasant Valley and Knox Cave roads, spurred by a recent accident there.

Barber, who lives near the intersection, said there had been four accidents there in the last five years, “all local people”;

— Passed, by a vote of 4 to 1, a request for home-rule so Knox could set its own speed limits. Barcomb said State Senator George Amedore wanted a new resolution since he hadn’t gotten to it in the last session. Lefkaditis voted against the measure without saying why;

— Scheduled a volunteer-appreciation picnic for Saturday, Oct. 19, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. in the town park;

— Approved spending up to $500 for required building and zoning administration training for Richard Loucks;

— Approved spending up to $1,000 for a retired Guilderland school bus to serve as a senior van;

— Approved spending $50 for a Christmas tree as part of an initiative by The Helderberg Family and Community Organization. Clerk Schanz volunteered to decorate the tree when no one else would;

— Heard from Adriance, whose husband, Joe, works at the town’s transfer station, that a stool and two chairs had been taken.

“It sounds like someone’s messing with someone,” she said.

Lefkaditis said it would be too time-consuming for someone to review the video from cameras at the transfer station, since it would involve three days: Aug. 31, Sept. 5, and Sept. 7;

— Heard from Timothy Fisher, of Bozenkill Road, who read from the state’s Labor Law sections prohibiting discrimating against employees who make complaints. He read a list of what retaliation could involve, including cuts in hours or pay, reassignment, or more intense or critical supervision.

“People are watching,” he said; and

— Heard concerns from a resident who had read in The Enterprise about one Berne board member threatening another. “Some people were frightened,” he said. Another resident in the gallery pointed to the metal detectors at the entrance to the Knox town meeting room.

Lefkaditis said that Knox has a code of conduct. “Let me look at it and get back to you,” he said.

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