Planning board defers Knox MRD recommendation another month

A map of a proposed multi-use recreational district in Knox shows that a number of properties were removed from the proposed district upon owners’ requests.

KNOX — Supporters of Knox Supervisor Vasilios Lefkaditis’s longstanding quest to rezone residential and agricultural land around the intersection of routes 156 and 157 to a more business-friendly designation will have to wait at least another month, as the Knox Planning Board decided at its Sept. 10 regular meeting to hold off on making a recommendation so that planning board members can have more time to review the details of the rezoning application. 

The application had been reviewed by the Albany County Planning Board, which determined in April that there were no significant impacts associated with the plan and deferred to local expertise.

But not all the Knox Planning Board members had received the documents related to the multi-use recreational district application sent by Knox Planning Board Chairman Thomas Wolfe in time for the meeting, so the board voted to push the decision until next month and adjourn the Sept. 10 meeting to allow all seven members of the planning board additional time to review the material.

This is the third iteration of a rezoning attempt at the intersection of routes 156 and 157, and one that seems all but guaranteed to pass once it’s ready to be voted on by the town board, which is made up entirely of council members who had run with Lefkaditis since his first election to the supervisor role in 2015. 

Introduced in 2016, the first proposal sought to rezone the land as a business district — the second in the town — but it twice failed to pass a town board vote and neither time did it receive an endorsement from the town’s planning board, which was chaired then by Robert Price. Wolfe was the sole member who had voted in favor.

Concerns among residents about the business district were varied, but generally related to the environmental and spiritual preservation of the small, rural town. Traffic- and water-safety concerns were also raised. 

After these failed votes and a slew of resident criticisms at public meetings, Lefkaditis motioned in 2018 to withdraw the business-district application and submitted an application for an MRD rezone in the same area.

An MRD is a mid-point between a business and residential district. Unlike a residential area, an MRD allows for uses such as general retail stores, studios, and restaurants. But, unlike a business district, it would not allow for funeral homes, laundromats, or shopping centers. 

Though the retooling earned the approval of the town’s planning board, residents levied similar criticisms against the proposed MRD as they had against the business district, and the Albany County Planning Board formally disapproved of the project in February of 2019 due to concerns about the environment, traffic, and inconsistency with the town’s comprehensive plan, among other things. 

Comprehensive plans are town documents that lay out a general guide for the direction for a town’s future, relying on resident input to lend the non-legally binding document its authority. Frequently, towns codify the tenets of comprehensive plan into zoning regulations.

Knox’s comprehensive plan signals a strong local preference for both the preservation of rural character and economic development but leaves the manner of achieving those goals up for interpretation. 

Because the county planning board disapproved of the proposal, the Knox Town Board needed to achieve a supermajority — 4 out of 5 votes — for the rezoning to pass. The proposal failed in October of last year when Democrats Earl Barcomb and Dennis Barber voted against it. The remaining three board members had all voted in favor. 

Barcomb and Barber would lose their reelection bids the following month to Dennis Cyr, a Republican, and June Springer, a Democrat. Cyr and Springer both ran alongside Lefkaditis, a Democrat, and all three were backed by the GOP. Lefkaditis beat out Democrat-backed challenger Russell Pokorny, who is also enrolled as a Democrat. 

Cyr and Springer have each indicated that they support the MRD.

Lefkaditis announced at the Knox Town Board’s first meeting after Cyr and Springer were inaugurated that the town would again seek to accomplish the rezoning and submitted a new application to the Albany County Planning Board. 

When asked by a planning board member at the Sept. 10 meeting why the county planning board issued a different decision this time around despite the application being similar to the one submitted prior, Wolfe responded, “They actually read it this time.”

Wolfe explained that it seemed to both he and planning board member William Pasquini — who attended the meeting at which the county planning board disapproved of the proposal — that the county planning board had not reviewed the application thoroughly. 

Lefkaditis said before last October’s vote on the MRD that the county planning board had been unduly influenced by a small group of residents who had attended county meetings and vocalized their complaints.

The county planning board could not be reached for comment.



In addition to the MRD recommendation, the planning-board agenda had scheduled a review of a solar farm application from developer RIC Energy, which is seeking approval for a 4.4-megawatt project in the town. 

An application has not yet been submitted, and the purpose of that item was to allow the planning board to provide feedback to company representatives at the meeting regarding the contents of its application ahead of submission, so that the company could be made aware of any critical information that might be absent. 

However, as with the MRD documents, not all planning board members received material related to the solar project and the goal of identifying missing information could not be achieved. 

The planning board suggested to RIC Energy that pushback from residents will likely be centered around visual impact, as is the case with Westerlo’s Shepard Farm solar fields, and that a visual impact analysis would be useful for when the project is eventually subjected to a public hearing. 

It was agreed between the board and the developers that the developers would prepare a visual impact analysis before next month’s planning board meeting while the board members would review the information the developers had sent to Wolfe and notify them before the meeting of any critical omissions. 


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