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Hilltowns Archives —The Altamont Enterprise, May 1, 2008

Brick to lead Westerlo planning board

By Tyler Schuling

WESTERLO — The town’s planning board now has a new leader. 

Andrew Brick, who has served on the board since it was created last year, has been appointed chairman.  He will now lead Westerlo’s planning board in creating the town’s first comprehensive land-use plan.

“I do planning and zoning for a living, and I just thought it was a great opportunity to be able to utilize my expertise to help my own community,” said Brick, who has lived in the rural Helderberg Hilltown for seven years.  “It was a great opportunity.”

Leonard Laub, who was appointed by the town board last year to chair the planning board, was removed from office last month.  He had refused to fill out a Civil Service application, which the town board said was required.

The day after voting Laub out, three members of the five-member town board met in an unannounced meeting to appoint Brick as chairman. 

Since 2006, Brick, who is married and has a young daughter, has worked full-time for the city of Schenectady as a deputy city attorney.  He has worked with many municipalities — Schenectady, Rotterdam, and Babylon — on their comprehensive plans.

“I’ve been practicing for 13 years.  I’m primarily a planning and zoning attorney,” Brick said.  “I’ve represented planning boards and zoning boards my entire career.”

He has been the town attorney for the towns of Greenville and Rotterdam and the planning and zoning attorney for the town of Coeymans and the village of Ravena.  He has taught planning and zoning courses for the New York Planning Federation, written articles on planning and zoning laws, and argued in the state’s Supreme Court on planning, zoning, and comprehensive plan issues.

“There’s actually less on my plate this year than there was last year,” Brick said.  “Last year, I represented some other municipalities at night, so I was out 20 to 25 nights a month.  This year, I gave all that stuff up at night to spend more time with my family at home,” he said. “So I do have a lot more time now.  I wouldn’t have accepted their request to make me chair and get this process rolling if I couldn’t dedicate the time commitment.”

Planning for the future

Since January, the planning board has worked to create Westerlo’s first comprehensive plan.  The plan, which contains detailed information about various aspects of the town, is essentially used as a guide to draft a zoning law, which regulates development and a property owner’s use of land. 

The town’s zoning law was adopted in the 1980s. 

While the planning board creates the master plan, the town board has the ultimate say on which laws are enacted.  In conjunction with creating a master plan, a moratorium was enacted by the Westerlo Town Board last July, halting major subdivisions in the town for 18 months.

In January, the planning board held a workshop, and, since, has met twice with Westerlo’s farmers.  Under Laub, the board also discussed meeting with business owners and residents who live at Lake Onderdonk and in the town’s various hamlets.

“We’ve developed a lot of information,” said Brick.  “In my personal opinion, we’ve got to start now to take some time to put the pencil to the paper.  We’ve heard a lot of things, and we’ll continue to hear from other interested groups, like the individual hamlets, maybe business owners,” he said.  “But my feeling of it is that we need to start drafting something.  We need to start putting the pen to the paper.”

The planning board held a meeting last Tuesday. 

Brick said the first thing he implemented was a concrete schedule for comprehensive-plan meetings, rather than finding dates that are good for everybody.  The board, he said, voted to dedicate every third Tuesday for the remainder of the year to comprehensive-plan meetings. 

“So we have that in place and…I’m hopeful that we can have a draft comprehensive plan in the hands of the town board by the end of the year,” Brick said. 

Westerlo’s zoning board members have a lot of years of experience, he said. 

“Our town zoning board said, ‘Hey, we’ve been doing this for a long time…and we see some things that constantly pop up for us that we think are problems with the existing codes,’” said Brick.  And, he said, the town’s building inspector, Ed Lawson, said the same thing.

Everybody at Lake Onderdonk, Brick said, seems to need to go to the zoning board for variances. 

The planning board is scheduled to meet next on May 20 to work on comprehensive planning. 

“We’re going to open it up to the public and have everybody come in,” said Brick, “and we’re going to focus on problems people have with the existing zoning codes — What works?  What doesn’t?  What’s broke?  What needs to be fixed with the current zoning?”

Food Bank of Northeastern NY and Patroon Farm launch CSA

By Tyler Schuling

KNOX — A farm on Ketcham Road that provides food for the hungry is continuing to grow.   

In 1997, Pauline Williman put her family’s farm in a land trust — the Patroon Land Foundation.  From 2001 to 2005, she and her brother, William Salisbury, operated the farm and harvested produce for the hungry.  And, in 2006, the Regional Food Bank of Northeastern New York began managing the farm. 

This summer marks another change as the farm and food bank, in addition to providing food for the hungry, will also grow produce for the community through community-supported agriculture.

A CSA is a partnership between a farm and a community of supporters.  Members support the farm by buying shares, and pick up produce each week.  The food bank is now accepting applications.

There are no organizations to represent CSAs, but 133 are listed on the Northeast Organic Farming Association of New York’s website.  And, according to the Just Food website, there are over 50 CSAs in metropolitan New York City. 

“We are growing produce for the regional food bank so that we can feed hungry people, but the purpose of the CSA is that we can become self-sustaining so that there’s money there to keep the farm running for years to come,” said Linda Comstock, the food bank’s director of major gifts and special projects. 

“This has been our goal since we started managing the farm in 2006,” she said.  “We knew that we had to, at some point, make the farm self-sustaining so that we weren’t using regional food bank money to operate the farm.”

She said, “Our goal was to start it in 2009, but we’ve done so well with the land and with community in-kind services that we’ve been able to start it in 2008.”

One expensive upgrade, through in-kind services, was the installation of over $25,000 in drainage tiles, Comstock said. 

“Awesome” progress

“It’s done awesome,” Comstock said of the farm.  “Last year, we harvested 96,359 pounds of produce, which is three times more than what we did the year before.  We only started it in 2006.” 

With a goal to harvest 100,000 pounds for the food bank this year and the addition of the CSA, the food bank recently bought a new tractor, and is looking to add another acre to its operation.  And it will be hiring three seasonal employees to work on the farm from May through October. 

During the harvest season, which runs from early July through mid-October, members will pick up their shares — designed to feed a family of three to four — at the Patroom Farm in Knox or at the food bank in Latham on Thursdays between 3 and 6:30 p.m.  Shares that are not claimed will be donated to the food bank. 

Comstock said people are signing up for the CSA for two reasons: because of the mission of the farm — to help feed hungry people — and because people want locally-grown produce.  And, she said, the cost of about $23 a week is less expensive than market prices. 

In the early season, the CSA will grow lettuce, spinach, beets, broccoli, scallions, and swiss chard.  Summer squash, zucchini, cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, cabbage, sweet corn, onions, and muskmelons will be grown in midseason.  And broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, potatoes, carrots, turnips, and winter squash will be harvested in the late season.

Members of the CSA will also be able to pick their own string beans, peas, cherry tomatoes, and herbs.

The food bank is now holding a membership drive.  Shares cost $400, and additional shares bought within a family will be discounted 10 percent. 

“We’re only accepting 50 for this year just to make sure we run it smoothly, and, right now, we’re at 21,” said Comstock.  Next year, she said, membership will increase to 150 and will be up to 600 by 2013. 

“That’s our goal,” Comstock said. 

Barcomb steps down after 25 years on Knox ZBA

By Tyler Schuling

KNOX — Earl Barcomb chaired the town’s zoning board with the precision of an engineer and the empathy of a man who knows how to listen. 

After 25 years on the zoning board, using his skills to carefully marshal evidence and avoid the pitfalls that fuel contention, he has stepped down. 

Barcomb said the most challenging aspect of serving on the board was helping members of the community with opposing views to listen to each other and come together for a solution that is acceptable for both within the legal framework for the town.

The most controversial, he said, was the Patriarch application for a drug-treatment facility. 

Barcomb listed a number of reasons for his resignation.  He must attend to current health issues; he and his wife travel a great deal and enjoy it immensely; and he has been away too much to effectively serve as the board’s chairman. 

“I have enjoyed working on the ZBA very much,” he said.  “I wanted to be involved with this community and to work to keep it as special as it is.”

Barcomb grew up in the North Country, in Mountain View, a small community in the Adirondacks.  For four years, he was on active duty in the Air Force.  Subsequently, he said, he served in the Air Force Reserve and retired as a colonel.  He then moved to the Capital District and lived in McKownville for several years. 

In 1978, he and his wife, Wendy, whom he has been married to for almost 43 years, moved to their farm on Craven Road in Knox.  They have four children, and their oldest serves on Knox’s Conservation Advisory Council and now lives on their old farm.  The Barcombs built a smaller house, also in Knox, where they have lived for five years. 

“We love living here, and, when we turned the farm over to our son and his family, it was important for us to stay within the town of Knox,” Barcomb said. 

For over 30 years, he worked for the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation as an engineer in environmental engineering and management. 

“I retired in 2001, then went back to work after the 9/11 tragedy to assist the State Emergency Management Office in New York City,” Barcomb said.  “I have since worked part-time for SEMO on other projects.”

Looking back and forward

Twenty-five years ago, Barcomb was asked by Dana Sherman, a neighbor of his who was serving on the town board at the time, to serve on Knox’s zoning board.

Years later, he served as the chair of the town’s master plan committee.

“The committee comprised a large and talented group of Knox citizens, and, with the support of the Knox Town Board, the plan was developed and approved,” Barcomb said. 

In conjunction with the master plan, he said, the zoning law is the town’s guide to its future development. 

He quoted the town’s zoning ordinance.  “The objective of this ordinance is to promote the health, safety, and general welfare of the Town of Knox, to provide for the protection and preservation of clean air, water and soil, to avoid undue concentrations of population, to facilitate the adequate provision of transportation, water, sewer, schools, parks, and other requirements as may become necessary from time to time.” 

Barcomb said the law promotes consistency of property use in each zoning district and provides protection to residents and property owners from the adverse consequences of undesirable development.

An important function of the ZBA, he said, is to interpret the ordinance as it relates to hardships, unusual circumstances, and those situations that are only vaguely addressed in the ordinance. 

“The ZBA,” Barcomb said, “is very careful to not grant changes without proper foundation and to not set bad precedents, so as not to make the zoning law meaningless.”

Barcomb said of his successor, Bob Edwards, who was appointed as the new chair last month, “He is an excellent choice and will do well in this new role.  He is careful, fair, mindful of the legal requirements of the zoning ordinance, and considerate of the people he deals with.  He has an excellent board to work with.  He understands what the ZBA’s role is, and how it should accomplish its tasks.” 

And what’s in store for Barcomb now?

“We will continue to enjoy our family, our neighbors, and community and hope to do a lot more traveling,” he said.  “We are fortunate to have been able to see many interesting places in the world, but there are a lot more on our travel list.  We also like to spend time in the Adirondacks, visiting family members there, and staying at our camp in Mountain View.”

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