Hitmans Towing seeks traction in Knox

Enterprise file photo — Marcello Iaia

Ready to go: Kristen Reynders operates her towing business with two phones, standing in her garage on Route 146, where she hopes to offer state car inspections and minor repairs. Zoning administrator Robert Delaney issued an appearance ticket at the property on Jan. 8 for operating a business in a residential district. She said she has been operating in Knox since 2010. Earlier, she ran a similar business in Altamont that didn’t fit the village zoning and so relocated to Knox.

KNOX — A ticket was issued on Jan. 8 for a zoning violation by a towing business that has been at the center of the town’s deliberations on planning for commercial uses.

Kristen Reynders, owner of Hitmans Towing, appeared in Knox Town Court on Wednesday with her attorney, Nicole Strippoli of Young, Fenton, Kelsey & Brown P.C., and four supporters. The case was adjourned until March 12. She pleaded not guilty.

Judge Jean Gagnon said the violation could have up to a $350 fine and could be continued after each week the business is in violation.

Reynders requested a special-use permit from the zoning board of appeals, for which Strippoli said a hearing is scheduled on Feb. 27.

Hitmans has four tow trucks and is located on the same property as Reynder’s home on Route 146. Two employees are family members and live at the same address, she said; a third employee lives off of the property.

Reynders wants to open her garage for state inspections and changing oil and tires, but first went to the zoning and planning boards over the summer to open the operation legally.

The zoning ordinance states any “public garage” used for profit and servicing automobiles must have a special-use permit in business districts and is prohibited everywhere else. It does not mention towing as a permitted or prohibited use.

The town currently has no designated business districts although one is proposed for the hamlet. Hitmans is not located in or near the hamlet.

“Nothing is really going on with the garage,” said Reynders. “The only thing we’re really in violation is in parking commercial vehicles, which many people do up here, besides just me.”

The town planning board voted unanimously in July to recommend the district be created in the town’s hamlet on Route 156. By a 5-to-2 vote, it recommended a second business district that would encompass Hitmans Towing, on the south side of Route 146, extending west from Lewis Road.

The board voted again on the second district in October, reversing its decision.

Citing a description in the zoning ordinance of future business districts as “centrally located,” Daniel Driscoll and Robert Gwinn, both long-time planning board members who helped draft the town’s 1994 comprehensive plan, voted against creating the district on Route 146.

Planning Board Chairman Robert Price told The Enterprise in October that Driscoll, Gwinn, Betty Ketcham, and Earl Barcomb voted against proposing the second business district when it came up for a vote again.

Regulations for business districts have been written into the Knox zoning ordinance, created in 1974, but none have been designated for the rural area. The town’s comprehensive plan, a blueprint for zoning, is in the process of revision.

Pamela Fenoff and longtime supervisor Michael Hammond each said they wanted to develop commercial zoning as they ran against each other in the November election. Fenoff ran on the Republican, Conservative, and Independence Party lines. She is an enrolled Independence Party member. Hammond, a Democrat, won the election.

Fenoff, the planning board secretary, said she is moving in June to North Dakota because her husband has been promoted in his work at Ducks Unlimited. She said she plans to continue producing a newsletter she started in December, called “Rural Roots,” from her new home. She was with Reynders in court on Wednesday.

“I lost the election by 63 votes, which tells you half the town wants to move forward,” Fenoff said, speaking in a group with Reynders and her supporters. Among them was Kevin Miller, a neighbor two lots east of Reynders who said he has had no issues with noise or nuisance coming from the business.

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