[Home Page] [This Week] [Classifieds] [Legals] [Obituaries] [Newsstands] [Subscriptions] [Advertising] [Deadlines] [About Us] [FAQ] [Archives] [Community Links] [Contact Us]

Hilltowns Archives —The Altamont Enterprise, August 16, 2007

Working to get wired up in Hilltown

By Tyler Schuling

RENSSELAERVILLE — A town telecommunications committee is working to bring better Internet access, cellular phone reception, and emergency communication to this rural community.

"We’re only partway through the project," said Frederick Urrutia, a member of the Rensselaerville Telecommunications Committee.

"The population’s disadvantaged by not having the technology. Ten years ago, there was a big concern at the federal level that poor people in inner cities and urban areas are disadvantaged. They don’t have access to the Internet, while middle-class people and upper-class people do.

"Today, the inner cities are better served by broadband"and it’s rural America, which is a lot of middle class. Vast geographies have no access, and we’ve become the disadvantaged population so we’ve got to do something about it," Urrutia said.

Located in the southwestern corner of Albany County and nearly 25 minutes from Albany, this rural town has sporadic, often no cell phone reception. Many are unable to access the Internet, and the town is serviced by multiple phone companies and has many phone exchanges.

A recent federal law is requiring cellular phone companies to provide better coverage in rural areas.

The Federal Communications Commission, said Urrutia, "has told the cell companies that, in order to retain your franchises, you have to provide better coverage to tier three," Urrutia said. Tier one is urban, tier two is suburban, and tier three is rural.
The committee has met with many representatives of communications companies. It recently sent out a six-question survey to town residents, asking to what degree individuals feel disadvantaged by not having access to high-speed Internet, whether they would subscribe to Internet access if it were available, how much they would be willing to pay for the service, and how important they feel it is to improve communication between public safety agencies.

The questionnaire also asks whether residents support additional towers within the town. Urrutia, who lives near Crystal Lake, and runs his business, Broadband Technologies, from his home, has suggested the 100-foot tall personal windmill tower on his property as a site for wireless access.

Another defunct tower that has been considered is located on Pond Hill Road. The tower, which is between 260 and 280 feet tall, is owned by American Tower. It has been out of service for many years, Urrutia said.

"That tower would put a good signal to Schoharie County and Albany County," he said.

Better cellular coverage is important for public safety, such as calling for roadside assistance, reporting accidents, and medical emergencies, he said.

"There’s a public opinion that says, ‘We’d like access to this stuff.’ If you have a stroke or a heart attack or you break down"you can’t reach the EMS guys. You can’t get 911," he said.

"The converse is somebody’s sick or there’s a fire, and a fireman doesn’t even know about it because their communications is poor and his pager doesn’t work," he said.

In its survey, the committee points to benefits of a high-speed Internet connection: faster downloading of attachments, music, and videos; telecommuting; and access to TV and newspapers.

Though the deadline for submitting the surveys has passed, the committee is still accepting them, Urrutia said.

Last year, as the land-use committee worked on developing a master plan for the town, a survey was sent out and visioning workshops were held as part of the process.

Results from the surveys and workshops showed many residents thought one of the most negative aspects of life in Rensselaerville is its poor communications.

Urrutia, who moved to Rensselaerville from California with his wife to retire, said he may have to move — to Troy or back to California — because he’s disadvantaged in Rensselaerville.

"I’m committed to living here, and I’m working my ass off to change the situation," he said.

Residents to vote on 5- or 20-acre lots

By Tyler Schuling

RENSSELAERVILLE — The future of agricultural districts in the town will be decided directly by residents.

"What the majority wants to do is what we do," said Supervisor Jost Nickelsberg last week.

While a committee has worked on a master plan for the town for over a year, the size of lots in the agricultural district has been controversial.

The committee’s chairman, Vernon Husek, resigned in March over the issue. A majority of the committee’s 13 members voted for 10-acre zoning in the agricultural district. Husek, who owns 130 acres and favored larger lot sizes, called the decision "totally ineffective if we’re to believe the experts." He said at the time that the committee changed from "data-driven" to "politically-driven."

Thomas Mikulka was appointed as the new chairman.

A survey will soon be sent out to every registered voter and every taxpayer, who will choose either five acres per dwelling or 20 acres per dwelling in agricultural districts.

"We’re trying to make this be the determining survey to try and get as many people in the town, above and beyond anything we’ve had so far," Nickelsberg said.

"So anything people said at [the public hearing] didn’t count"" Becky Lewis asked last week. Lewis, a member of the land-use committee, said there was no place on the original land-use survey sent out to residents that said "20 acres." Lewis operates the only remaining dairy farm in Rensselaerville and one of few in Albany County. She has been outspoken about larger lot sizes devaluing farmland.

"We did not ask the question right the first time. That’s why we’re doing this again," Nickelsberg said.

The town is in a "fractured, divided state," Nickelsberg told The Enterprise this week. "Majority rule trumps that," he said. Nickelsberg cited the survey sent out last year to 1,400 people and a public hearing on subdivision regulations and zoning laws in April.


According to a September report by the town’s planner, Nan Stolzenberg of Community Planning and Environmental Associates, 496 surveys were returned, or 35-percent.

Survey results and visioning workshops showed residents are concerned with losing farmland; value farmers and want the town to show support; are concerned with current development patterns; and value open space, rural character, quality of life, natural areas, open spaces, and scenic views.

Nickelsberg said there is "no conclusive information"We need to ask the specific question."

The town last updated its master plan in 1991 and that plan, now 16 years old, specifies 5-acre lots in the agricultural zone.

The land-use committee is expected to complete the town’s new master plan this month, and it will be available to the public for two months before the town board votes on the plan in November, said Mikulka.

Mikulka, whose Barger Road home is currently for sale, has called the issue of lot size in the agricultural districts "a bone of contention" in the community.

A moratorium halting major subdivisions for one year while a committee completed a comprehensive land-use plan was enacted in the spring of last year. This year, in May, the town board voted to extend the moratorium for six months.

The options

Last week, trustees and residents discussed options for surveying the public. Officials originally designated five options from which residents could choose.

"That’s a huge spread there," said resident Nora Logan. Logan recommended leaving a blank space on the survey for residents to choose something between five or 20 acres.

"I wish there were just one in the middle for someone who doesn’t want one extreme or the other," Logan said. "Isn’t the issue really to find something most people can live with""

Mikulka explained the two choices.

"Do we want to preserve open land as potential agricultural land by zoning" That’s the question," he said. "If you want to do that, the experts say, ‘Twenty acres works. 15 does not work. 12 does not work. Eight does not work.’

"There’s the other side of the coin that says, if you go that way"that it decreases the value of the land"so people living there suffer"whereas the rest of the town may see an increase in the value of our land because there’s going to be a big segment in the town that’s not going to be developed," Mikulka said.

"We don’t think it’s fair," he said. Mikulka said there are other ways to preserve open space. Any major subdivision, he said, will be required to be clustered.

"We know, for a fact, that the people who want 20 acres will not settle for 10 acres," he said.

Results from the surveys and workshops showed residents want to preserve open space. However, at the town board’s public hearing on the plan in March, some town residents said they want smaller lot sizes, and larger lot size puts a burden on farmers.

The American Farmland Trust and Nan Stolzenberg, the consultant hired to work on the plan, have suggested larger lot sizes — 20- and 25-acre zoning — to preserve open space.

Nickelsberg said he wants results without any subjectivity or any bias. The town justices will count the surveys. "It will be totally secure," he said.

Other business

In other business, the town board:

— Held a public hearing to purchase one acre for the Potter Hollow Park. No comments were made from the audience of about 20 people;

— Heard from Mikuka that the town should shield the Dumpster at the transfer station from passersby. Mikulka has been reporting for the beautification committee in recent months. He lives across the street from the town hall and highway department on Barger Road. He suggested a fence to be put up at the transfer station.

"It’s your house that’s across the street," said Joan Johnston, who commended Jon Whitbeck, the town’s recycling officer, for keeping the town property in "immaculate" shape. "How many houses see this"" Johnston asked. She asked Mikulka if he is showing his house to potential buyers because it is for sale.

"Yeah," Mikulka said.

"The town is under no obligation to follow the zoning," said Jeff Pine, one of the town’s assessors and husband of Democratic Councilwoman Sherri Pine.

Residents suggested moving the Dumpster to the back of the building.

Mikulka cited dumps in Europe and Maine, and said you are unable to see transfer stations because they have been set back from the road and someone has considered shielding them from passersby.

There’s been no consideration of what it looks like, Mikulka said; and

— Heard from resident Bob Bolte that $24,629 has been raised for the senior/youth bus. The bus is to be funded by private donations. Bolte said he is expecting $5,000 from Senator Neil Breslin’s office, and a check for $10,000 is "in the mail and promised." In July, the newly-purchased town bus traveled 946 miles and had 66 passengers, Bolte said. Trips were made to New York City, Washington Park in Albany, Delmar, Cobleskill, and the Rensselaerville Institute.

Water rate triples in Westerlo

By Tyler Schuling

WESTERLO — Starting this week, residents in the hamlet’s new water district will pay three times as much for water.

Residents had paid $125 twice each year, plus their water usage. Those connected to the water system will now pay $375 twice each year plus usage — just over three cents for each thousand gallons of water. In February, residents will pay 4.6 cents per thousand gallons, said Kim Slingerland, the town supervisor’s clerk.

Slingerland estimated yearly fees and water usage at $850 to $900 per dwelling.

The water district, which combined two outdated private systems, was completed in 2005. It serves about 85 properties in and around the hamlet.

"We’ve got to pay for running the place," Superintendent Richard Rapp told The Enterprise, when asked the reason for the increase.

Last week, Rapp estimated the water district’s usage at 11,000 to 12,000 gallons per day.

"On the weekends, sometimes it’s more," he said. Rapp said he was surprised by how conservative homeowners in the district have been with their water use.

Residents at last week’s town board meeting suggested a volunteer attend classes to become licensed to perform the daily monitoring of water and maintenance. The town is under contract with LVDV Operations, Inc. of Cobleskill for about $24,000 for annual maintenance. The company monitors the water daily at the library and the fire station, and three of its employees are on call to respond in cases of emergencies.

"If this is going to keep increasing each year, it’s going to be absurd to live in Westerlo after awhile," said a resident of the water district, who lives with just one other person.

Rapp said last week he had asked a business in Greenville for the services, who would charge $19,000 annually.

The town had considered a volunteer for the job, but, Rapp said, it would require someone to go to school and become certified, and the town would have to pay his or her benefits. An individual was previously considered but was busy with other things, he said.

"There’s no easy fix," Rapp said.

Rapp said LVDV performs some maintenance on faulty parts and leaks.

"It would depend on how serious it is," he said. "I hope we never have to repair something," he said, adding that maintenance was needed for repairing fire hydrants.

"There’s got to be a solution out there," resident Gaye McCafferty told The Enterprise. McCafferty does not live in the water district. "When you’re not in the forest, you can see the trees," she said.

Zimmer to be honored
Give her a rag and she’ll braid you a rug

By Saranac Hale Spencer

BERNE — Hand-braided rugs, some the color of fall, others in shades of sherbet, and one dressed in a business suit, are layered three deep in Florence Zimmer’s home.

In 1950, when she and her husband, Howard, moved into the house they built on Route 443 in Berne, Zimmer wanted to cover the hardwood floors, so, she learned to braid rugs. Then, she learned to hook rugs. Then, she learned to quilt. Now, at 95, she has a house full of handmade goods and materials for more.

"I never buy anything," she said with some amusement. "I never buy a skein of yarn; it just comes here."

Her first rug was made out of old clothes, she said, and, by now, she has a reputation for being useful with odds and ends so people oblige her with sacks of fabrics and yarn.

"‘Have you got wool on"’" she remembered her late husband saying to guests. "‘Be careful. She’ll have it in her rug.’"

Her husband, who had been a teacher and later a school principal, had a closet full of wool suits when he died. Zimmer couldn’t bear to throw them away, so she packed them up in a suitcase, and, years later, she unearthed them, cut them into strips, and braided them into a perfect circle that sits at the top of her staircase.

It’s almost a shame to step on rugs like this. "They’ve been here since 1950," she says, pointing to neighboring rugs in the upstairs hallway. "And we had three kids up here, and the foster boy for five years." Black-and-white family photographs hang in the hall, and baby dolls await a little girl’s arrival in the small, sunlit bedrooms.

Each bed is made up with layers of handmade quilts. Zimmer pulls back the top quilt, every time revealing an entirely different style. The first time she took in quilting, she charged $7, said Zimmer, and then she went out and bought two white vases for her mantle. She still has them.

Zimmer is not a woman who wastes things.

"I made a romper suit for Howard," she said of her son. "Then Trisha came along and I cut off the bottom and made it a dress."

Being a mother in the country is really how she learned all of the crafts that she has mastered. "You learn to do things to keep yourself busy," she said.

"I love to make something from nothing," said Zimmer. "That gives me great satisfaction."


The Altamont Community Caregivers will be honoring Zimmer at their quilt show in Orsini Park on September 8. The show is set to begin at 10 a.m. and last until 4 p.m.; admission is $5 and the proceeds will benefit the Caregivers.

[Return to Home Page]