Promote responsible unsubsidized business development in Knox

To the Editor:

On Tuesday, Sept. 17, the Knox Town Board held two public hearings on important matters concerning our town.  The first was about zoning law changes that would help allow the development of senior-citizen housing in the town.  The second was on a proposal to establish a business district in a limited section of the Knox hamlet by the intersection of Route 156 and Knox Cave Road.

There was an excellent turnout of residents and neighbors who developed a highly constructive discussion as the board received comments on these topics.

The board voted unanimously to adopt the zoning-law changes, which will now allow some senior-housing projects to be entertained by the Knox Planning Board for development.  This is an important step on a much needed feature for our town, giving developers a green light to create proposals that will help keep our elderly closer to their homes, here in Knox.

Comments on the Hamlet Business District proposal from the public, as well as those from the board members, were consistent in recommending the expansion of the current proposal to include more of, or the entire hamlet area.  The town board will now look to the planning board to examine this recommended change for further consideration and public hearing.  I am confident that we will be adopting a business district in the Knox hamlet in the near future.

With this project moving forward, it’s important for the residents of Knox to understand what it will and will not do.  It will allow a number of expanded new uses, but business proposals will still be subject to a site-plan review by the planning board.

Does this mean that the floodgates will open to commercial development in the hamlet?  Hardly.

Remember, business proposals could be entertained through the town’s zoning and planning boards at any time in the past.

How many proposals have been presented?  None in recent history that I am aware of.

Will the establishment of a business district make the atmosphere more welcoming?  We hope so, but it’s more up to the creativity and marketing done by those who make business proposals that will determine their success.

This will not be the first district allowing business in Knox.  Back in 2007, under similar circumstances, the board established a Multiuse Recreational District along a portion of Route 443 in the western part of town.

Numerous business types are allowed in this district and it was established initially to give a business owner the ability to open a restaurant.  The Foxenkill Restaurant opened, was successful for several years, but is now closed.

In the hamlet, the Knox Country Store was operated for many years by Russ and Amy Pokorny.  There was a piano by the freezer section and every Friday night local musicians would play, eat, and enjoy their community.

The business was then sold to Joe Best, former town board member, who operated it for several years before leaving town after which the property went into disrepair, foreclosure, and decay leading to the United States Postal Service’s decision to abandon the location.

The only other business down the road is the former Mobile station, which is also abandoned and owes thousands in back taxes to the county.

The town board can make all the districts and laws that are proposed, but none of this will replace responsible ownership and the reality of demographics.  The numbers have to make sense; Berne-Altamont Road is not Western or Central avenue.

Business will come to the hamlet if there is a business reason to be here.  A store, a gas station, a boutique, or a restaurant will exist only if it makes money.  For this, the businesses would need patrons; townspeople and those who travel through our town will need to be enticed to do business here.

One advisement to the board made towards the end of the evening, which drew a surprising amount of head nodding endorsement by half of the room, really got my attention.  The proposal was for the board to attract businesses to the town by offering tax incentives.

Town tax breaks, deferments, etc. amount to nothing more than government subsidies.  Every dollar used for this will come out of your pocket and mine.

The Knox town budget is very carefully and conservatively balanced every year to meet rising costs while keeping our taxes as low as possible. Given what we’ve witnessed from the lack of responsible ownership of certain businesses here in the past, the last thing we should be a part of is government handouts from the wallets of the hard-working taxpayers of this town.

Knox is a sweat-equity kind of town.  We have lots of successful business people here who have made it on their own.

As the process moves forward into future meetings and public hearings, I encourage everyone in Knox to take ownership in the establishment of our business district by their participation.  Let’s be creative, encouraging, and realistic about this process.

Let’s promote responsible business development in our town.  Maybe you have an idea for a business of your own, or know someone else who does.  Please join the conversation.

Nick Viscio
Member Knox Town Board