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Hilltowns Archives —The Altamont Enterprise, December 29, 2005


Berne: 2005 in Review

By Matt Cook

BERNE—Another contentious year in Berne was capped by the reelection of the town supervisor.

After over a year of planning, a major revision to the town’s zoning ordinance was passed in January, over the vocal opposition of a group of residents. The town board voted, 3 to 2, to rezone the hamlet of Berne from largely residential to traditional neighborhood mixed use.

The Berne Hamlet Neighborhood Association, which opposed the plan primarily because it allows gas stations in part of the hamlet, was not able to assemble a petition that represented the owners of half of the land in the hamlet. If the association had, state law would have required a supermajority, or four out of five, of the town board members to pass the revision.

Supervisor Kevin Crosier strongly supported the plan and, throughout the year, many of his actions were met with criticism from the same group who opposed the plan. Democratic Councilman James Hamilton was one of the two who voted against it and later ran unsuccessfully against Crosier for supervisor.

Crosier, a registered Democrat running on the Republican ticket, won, 655 to 546. Democrat Joseph Golden, who also supporte the plan, was reelected to another term.

Stewart’s

The hamlet rezone had its first test in April.

The Stewart’s Corporation applied to the Berne Planning Board to build a convenience store and gas station in the hamlet. The company purchased two properties, pending the planning board’s approval of the store. One was a house at 1707 Helderberg Trail, owned by Tom and Barbara Smith and the other was a two-acre vacant lot next door owned by Richard and Naome Collier.

At the time, Tom Lewis, of Stewart’s, told The Enterprise the company had every intention of meeting the strict regulations required by the new zoning. According to the revised ordinance, new buildings in the hamlet must meet certain specifications intended to make them blend in with the historic hamlet.

Many hamlet residents strongly opposed Stewart’s’ proposal. Signs reading, "Why Stewart’s" Why now"" appeared on lawns. Many accused Crosier and his father, planning board Chairman John Crosier, of courting Stewart’s and changing the zoning just to allow the store, which the Crosiers denied.

"If I wanted to be next to a Stewart’s, I would move to Albany," said Kenneth Bunzey, a town justice and lifelong Berne resident who lives next door to the proposed site. "I’ve got my life invested in this town. I feel like my town leaders have let me down."

All the controversy came to naught, however. Stewart’s withdrew its application in June, citing the strict zoning.

"The ordinance that was passed requires restrictions that we believe limits our ability to successfully operate our business," Lewis said.

For example, Lewis said, restrictions on hours of operation would be bad for business. Also, the company prefers having parking lots in front of its stores rather than to the side or behind, as the zoning dictates.

"These design standards worked exactly the way they were supposed to work," Crosier said.

Crosier submitted a complaint about Bunzey, a Democrat, to the state’s Judicial Ethics Committee. It’s unethical for a town judge to tell lies in public, Crosier said.

"He has accused me of colluding with Stewart’s. He has no actual proof of that," Crosier said.

Bunzey maintained that he was only repeating what Lewis told him. Lewis denied saying any such thing.

Election

Despite the criticism of his administration, Crosier accepted the Republican nomination to run for a second four-year term as supervisor. The Democrats nominated Hamilton, a Hudson Valley Community College teacher in the midst of his first elected term on the town board. Hamilton said he wanted to bring the town back together.

"This is a wonderful town and I hate to see people arguing with each other," Hamilton said.

Crosier ran on a platform of preserving open space and maintaining a rural economy.

"We need to have an agriculture and rural-based economy. That is the key to the next four years," Crosier said, "preserving the things that I had when I was a kid growing up here."

When the county executive asked towns in the summer to contribute to a fund for promoting Tech Valley, Crosier was cautious.

"We should commit to this only if we use it in a way that will promote economic development and open-space protection," he said. "I’m not interested in investing in something that’s going to sprawl a rural community."

Besides Crosier, no other Republicans won in the fall election. Democrats outnumber Republicans in the town, two to one. For two seats on the town board, incumbent Joseph Golden and newcomer Wayne Emory easily defeated Rudolph Stempel and Mary Overbaugh.

"It’s very important for a representative that they represent all the people honestly and openly," Emory said in an interview before the election. "If the taxpayer puts you there, it’s a very high priority."

Space crunch

The Berne Town Board spent time in 2005 working on projects that began in years before, including the formation of a sewer district for the hamlet and a major improvement project on the town’s transfer station, now nearing completion.

One project looming for the town is dealing with the tight quarters shared by the town hall, the library, and the Berne museum.

The crunch in the library has gotten so bad that, as the library gets new books, magazines, CD’s, DVD’s, or videos, old ones, still in circulation, have to be taken off the shelf and stored or thrown out. On busy days, patrons have to squeeze by each other in the tight spaces between the shelves, "doing the dance," said Jeannette Miller, president of the Friends of the Town of Berne Free Library, in May.

The town or the library will either have to find a new home or expand the current building.

During his campaign, Councilman Golden, who serves as the town board’s liaison to the library board, said he thinks the library will probably be able to move out of the town hall to a larger space elsewhere on its own, allowing the town government to expand into the whole building.

"I don’t think anybody’s opposed to the library," he said.

"Dog intelligence"

This fall was another busy hunting season in Berne for John and Jolanta Jeanneny and their wirehaired dachshunds. The couple are America’s leading breeders of the dogs used for tracking wounded deer.

Interviewed in November, Mr. Jeanneny said he and his most-trusted dog, Sabina, had already taken 25 calls from hunters. The Jeannenys train their dachshunds to find a deer carcass 30 hours or more after it’s shot.

"Dog intelligence is very different from ours," Mr. Jeanneny said. "They surpass us in different ways. But they can’t count; three is kind of the limit."

The dogs work with their noses to the ground and at the end of a 30-foot leash. Sometimes, Mr. Jeanneny will stay out for 11 or 12 hours with Sabina searching for a deer.

"Basically, even though it’s a hobby, during hunting season, it basically takes over," Mrs. Jeanneny said.

"My retirement was not as calm as I thought it would be," said her husband.


Knox: 2005 in review

By Matt Cook

KNOX—Things went much more smoothly in Knox this election year than the last.

Two years after an election full of legal battles over technicalities resulted in two Republicans gaining seats on the town board, the Democrats easily held their majority on the board in a legally uncontested election this fall.

The Republicans, however, did not lose ground in the town where Democrats dominate, two to one. Republican Highway Superintendent Gary Salisbury trounced his opponent, August Landauer, 723 to 352, and, in a surprise victory, Republican newcomer Kimberly Swain edged out her Democratic opponent, incumbent Deborah Liddle, for town clerk.

For supervisor, Democrat Michael Hammond, who’s held the position for over three decades, faced Republican Mark Von Haugg.

"We need a change of regime, so to speak," Von Haugg said in July, after announcing his candidacy. "When somebody is in office for an extended period of time, they get complacent."

On Nov. 8, Hammond won, 618 to 443. Incumbent Councilman Nicholas Viscio and former Councilman Dennis Decker won the race for two seats on the town board over Republican Helene O’Clair. Decker will be returning to the board after losing his seat in 2003.

"I’m glad," Decker said the night of his victory. "It was more work than it was before. It was a complete effort."

Up until the election, most people in town thought the race between Salisbury and Landauer would be close. Landauer had been highway superintendent for many terms before losing to Salisbury in 2003. At that time, Landauer would have won the election, but 267 write-in votes were thrown out by the New York State Supreme Court because Landauer’s name was already on the ballot for the Conservative Party. The Democrats had launched a massive write-in campaign for their candidates after their names were taken off the ballot for late paperwork, a case pressed by the GOP.

In this year’s campaign, Salisbury claimed that the quality of the highway department’s work has improved under his supervision, and the department has modernized and become more accessible to residents. He attributed his victory to that.

"I think people really appreciate the work," he said.

Speaking from his home the morning after the election, Landauer sounded deflated.

"The people have spoken, I guess," Landauer said.

On her win as clerk, Swain said, "It caught me off guard, but I’m glad I won."

Conklin leaves board

The second Tuesday in December marked the last town board meeting for Councilman Charles Conklin after 10 years on the board. Conklin did not run for reelection because he has been ill with cancer.

"Your contributions to the board have been very valuable," Hammond told Conklin. "We hope the best for you."

The Knox Town Board voted unanimously in July to dedicate the new soccer field at the town park to Conklin. It was named the Chuck Conklin Youth Soccer Field.

Conklin has been an advocate for the young people of the town. He updated the board every month on the activities of the Knox Youth Council.

"It’s been very exciting for me," Conklin said of his time of the board. "I’ve learned a lot."

Crime and punishment

In November, Stephen Murphy, of Schenectady, was sentenced to 21 years in prison and five years of post-release supervision for first-degree manslaughter.

According to police, in September of 2004, Murphy stabbed and strangled a friend of his, Richard Agoney, in a camper on a Thompson’s Lake campsite after Agoney made sexual advances towards him. Murphy then lit the camper on fire and drove away in a truck he stole from Agoney, police say.

Murphy pleaded guilty in September, 2005.

In December, Justin Landauer, 27, of Knox, was sentenced to two-and-a-third to seven years in prison for vehicular manslaughter.

On June 23, around 8:10 p.m., Landauer, driving his pickup truck drunk, sped across the center line on Route 443 in Knox, and collided head-on with a car driven by Gary Lehmann, 47, of Binghamton, police said. Lehmann died within minutes.

Landauer pleaded guilty.

At the sentencing, friends and relatives spoke highly of Lehmann, a professor at the State University of New York at Binghamton.

"Gary Lehmann was a man full of kindness and love. He was a gentle soul with generosity for everyone he met," said Eric Cotts, a Binghamton professor of physics.

"Words can’t describe how truly sorry I am," said Landauer, struggling to get his words out between sobs. "I’m just sorry."

Thompson’s Lake lawsuit

In August, New York State Court of Claims Judge Judith A. Hard awarded the family of Nancy Phelan $2.5 million in a wrongful-death lawsuit.

Four years earlier, the Phelans were camping at Thompson’s Lake State Campground in Knox. Phelan was riding bikes with her 11-year-old son on a camp road near the beach when she lost control, going down a hill, and fell off, fatally hitting her head on the pavement, according to court records.

The Phelans’ lawyer, Christine M. Galvin, argued that the accident was due to a two-foot sinkhole in the road caused by an improperly installed culvert. The park staff knew about the sinkhole, Galvin said, but made no effort to repair it.

The park manager, the New York State Department of Parks and Recreation, and the New York State Attorney General’s Office all declined comment on the matter.

Fox Creek Flea Market

A Hilltown landmark reopened in Knox this summer.

Years ago, the Fox Creek Auction Arena held auctions and functioned as a flea market for vendors from all over the area, bringing hundreds of people into the hamlet of West Berne every weekend. However, in the early nineties, Douglas Cater, who owned and operated the arena, was taken to court for illegal auction practices and was forced to shut down.

Since then, the stream of out-of-town visitors to West Berne has slowed to a trickle. The new owner, Edward Allen, of Berne, hoped to change that.

The new Fox Creek Flea Market averaged about 20 vendors per weekend this summer, but there is room for 270.

"I knew the first year was going to be tough," Allen said.

Allen kept the flea market running despite being ticketed by the town for starting his business without the required special-use permit from the zoning board.

"I guess I’m going to have to get some tickets because I’m going to go bankrupt if I refund [the vendors’] money," Allen told town Judge Linda Quay.

Community efforts

Several Knox residents were involved in efforts to improve life, the environment, and the economy in the Hilltowns in 2005.

Alexander "Sandy" Gordon, a, Albany County legislator from Knox, along with former Knox resident Daniel Capuano; Kathleen Moore, of Berne; and Loren Pruskowski, of Delanson, are spearheading an effort to develop a model for putting wind energy turbines in the Helderbergs. The remarkable thing about the effort, the four say, is that it’s driven by a community, not a corporation.

"The idea is, if a project comes out of this, it will be a community wind project," Capuano said.

Funded by a grant from the New York State Research and Development Authority, the group is creating a business model for a small, community-owned windfarm in the Hilltowns. Currently, the four are assembling a focus group to plan the project.

With the blessing of the Knox Town Board, Amy and Russ Pokorny, with the Friends of the Helderbergs, are creating a Hilltown commerce map and trail as a way of helping local businesses. A tentative map, handed out as an example at the last Knox Town Board meeting, lists 53 different sites. They range from farms to convenience stores to craft stands to parks to taverns.

"You could spend the day, having breakfast at one end of the region and end the day with a nice meal at the other end of the region, and maybe a performance at Conkling Hall or something," Mrs. Pokorny said.

Participating businesses will be marked with yellow signs. Supervisor Hammond directed the town’s planning board to work with the Friends on putting up signs on town highways.

Finally, Robert Price convinced the town board to declare war on an invasive plant, purple loosestrife. Every year, Price, the planning board chairman, begs the town to take action against the weed, which, he said, is approaching the Knox town line along the Bozenkill Creek.

"If it gets in our wetland, we’re not going to get it out," Price said.

In August, the town board passed a resolution committing the town highway department to removing the plant from along town roads, and encouraging residents to do the same on their private property.

"Until Bob started talking about it, I thought it was a very pretty flower and I wanted it in my yard," said Councilwoman Patricia Gage.


Westerlo: 2005 in Review

By Matt Cook

WESTERLO—The big job of the Westerlo Town Board in 2005 was setting up a water district in the hamlet of Westerlo. The largest portion of town board meetings was taken up by discussions of the details of the project.

Work began early in the summer on a project that connects and updates two old, privately-owned water systems. The new system will be a public water district.

In 2001, Westerlo received a grant through the State Drinking Water Revolving Fund for $1.2 million plus a $425,000 interest-free, 30-year loan to pay for the water district.

One of the most complex parts of the project was securing a grant from the governor’s office to aid poorer residents with the cost of hooking into the system.

"Our goal is none of the low-income families need to take any money out of pocket," said town attorney Aline Galgay, who did much of the work applying for the grant along with Councilman R. Gregory Zeh.

In October, the town board announced that it had received the $82,000 Small Cities grant. Eligibility starts at an annual income of $35,550 for a one-person household.

Election

The local election in Westerlo in 2005 was notable because one candidate, Zeh, ran for town board, holding the nominations of the Republican and Democratic parties.

"I look at my position on the local level as being non-partisan," Zeh said. "I’m just interested in serving my community."

When he learned of his dual nominations from The Enterprise, Zeh said, "Excellent. I guess everybody thinks I’m doing a good job."

Zeh, an accountant for the Gollub Corporation, was unanimously appointed to the town board in March after the death of Councilman Clifton "Sonny" Richardson. Richardson was the first Republican on the town board in over 70 years. His four-year term would have been up at the end of the year. Democrats outnumber Republicans in Westerlo, three to one.

Zeh was enrolled as a Republican at the time of his appointment.

In the November election for two seats on the town board, Zeh received the most votes, with 767, followed by incumbent Democrat Edward Rash, who works in public relations for Hannay Reels, with 534. Republican Party Chairman Charles Faul, a computer consultant, lost, with only 264 votes.

Faul said he wasn’t surprised at the results. Republicans have always had trouble getting elected in Westerlo, he said. Richardson won four years ago because he was well-known and well-liked by almost everyone in town, Faul said.

"I haven’t been in town as long as some of these guys," he said. "I think, generally speaking, I’m heartened I had some support."

In the only other Westerlo election, incumbent Democrat Alan Bauder ran unopposed for town justice.

Remembering Sonny

Richardson died on Jan. 7. He was 75.

He was a third-generation well-driller. He and his brother, Milton, were partners in a business started by their grandfather in 1908, C. Richardson & Sons Well Drilling.

Richardson came to politics late in life, running for town office at the age of 71 on the platform of helping small businesses.

"He was an excellent councilman," said long-time Westerlo Supervisor Richard Rapp. "He wanted to do what he thought was right for the people. He was a good man. He will be sorely missed."

Zoning proposal

In 2006, the town board may be taking a look at its zoning ordinance.

At the last meeting of the year, in December, Councilman Rash distributed a series of proposals for changes to local laws. Rash supports the town’s creating a comprehensive land-use plan, and intends his proposals to address pressing zoning and planning issues until that plan is made, especially since more and more people are moving away from the suburbs and cities.

"I thought that this would be best to act as a stopgap," Rash said.

Among other things, Rash calls for changes in Westerlo’s minimum lot size, from three to five acres for a single-family home, and from five to seven acres for a two-family home. Also, he proposes, subdivisions are not to exceed more than 10 units in any stage of their development.

If passed, Rash’s proposals could affect future development projects similar to Emerald Meadows, which came before the planning board in December.

In the northeast corner of town, Properties of New York is asking for a subdivision to turn 161 acres of old farmland into lots for 14 new homes. Some of the project’s neighbors don’t think the land is suitable.

"I just want to see responsible development and that proposal is not responsible development," said Paul Baitsholts, a lifetime Hilltowner who, with his wife, Helene Goldberger, owns over 400 acres just across the town line in Berne and Rensselaerville.

The developers counter that the subdivision is well within the rules of the town’s zoning ordinance.

"We don’t think it’s an aggressive subdivision by any stretch of the imagination," said engineer Elliot Fischman.

Trafficking on eBay

In May, Noreen Pettalino, of Westerlo, pleaded guilty to trafficking stolen goods.

She admitted to conspiring with a truck driver for nearly a year to sell stolen Eddie Bauer merchandise over the Internet auction site, eBay, according to documents from the United States District Court for the Northern District of New York.

According to her plea, Pettalino met a driver for Eddie Bauer in May of 2002 and agreed to sell boxes of merchandise he stole from stores, including one in Colonie. The total value of the stolen goods Pettalino sold was $77,761.48 retail, and $19,919.41 wholesale, the plea says.

A spokesman for eBay told The Enterprise the company cooperates with all police investigations and employs a Fraud Investigation Team made up of former law enforcement members.

Though eBay is often used by thieves, the spokesman, Hani Durzy said, "Usually, you read about them in a the context of them getting busted."

Meals for seniors

The Senior Citizens Meals Program, a program of Helderberg Senior Services, Inc., was invigorated in March as it received $11,000 in donations from three different sources. Hannay Reels Inc. gave $5,000, Bank of Greene County gave $1,000, and Bill Gossman, a former Westerlo resident and the son of a program participant, gave $5,000.

Cutbacks in county funding and the rising price of food are beginning to hurt the program, which costs about $75,000 per year, said Senior Services chairman James Croote.

"It’s nice. There’s a lot of camaraderie and so on," said Gossman’s father, Elting, a Westerlo resident, of the meals. "I like to get out and about and that does it."

Helderberg Senior Services recommends a donation of $3.75 per meal for those who can afford it and newcomers should call ahead, Croote said. The Enterprise runs the daily menu each week.

"They’re getting a great meal for only $3.75," Croote said.


Rensselaerville: 2005 in Review

By Matt Cook

RENSSELAERVILLE — The year 2005 saw a few moments of bitter division in Rensselaerville.

In August, River Valley Radio, of Westerlo, applied to the Rensselaerville Planning Board for a special-use permit to build a 150- to 180-foot radio tower on Ted E. Bear Hill, off of Route 353.

Among other things, River Valley owner Tom Diederich claimed the tower would improve communications for firefighters and police in the southwest corner of Albany County, and would have space for cellular companies or other broadcasters to move in. The Albany County Sheriff’s Department planned on using a grant from the federal Department of Homeland Security to install equipment on the tower, improving emergency broadcasting county-wide.

Some residents strongly opposed the plan, saying it would ruin a scenic view, irrevocably changing the town’s landscape. A crane was put in the spot, to give people an idea of what the tower would look like.

"When I saw the crane, it broke my heart," said resident Jeanette Rice at a heated public hearing. "That’s one of the most outstanding vistas in Albany County."

Speaking in support of the tower, volunteer fireman Ed Pizzagati said the lives the tower could save are more important than the view.

"You’re worried about material things. How about being worried about saving someone’s life"" Pizzagati asked, over loud retorts from the audience. "If it saves a life, it’s worth it. I’d sleep under it if I could...I guarantee you, a year from now, you won’t even notice it’s there."

The application to build the tower was denied by the planning board.

FOIL lawsuit

In September, Rensselaerville resident Vernon Husek filed an Article 78 lawsuit with the New York State Supreme Court. In the lawsuit, Husek contends that Highway Superintendent G. Jon Chase "has public records in his possession that are the subject of two [Freedom Of Information Law] requests that have been willfully concealed from both public inspection and the town records management officer Kathleen A. Hallenbeck."

The lawsuit also accuses Chase’s son, Councilman Gary Chase, of threatening Husek.

Husek requested all town records pertaining to any equipment leased after Jan. 1, 2000 and anything prepared by the town’s engineering firm after Jan. 1, 2000. Husek was looking for information on a project on Arnold Road, which touches Gary Chase’s property. He accused Councilman Chase of yelling at him when he went to Arnold Road to investigate.

Gary Chase told The Enterprise he only spoke to Husek that morning because he was on his property taking pictures. Chase said his children were in the house.

"I told him I didn’t want him on my property," Gary Chase said. "He was crawling through the woods."

Gary Chase didn’t comment on the matter. Husek accused him of hoarding files in his locked office.

"My concern is we have a highway superintendent who is refusing to answer questions about an expenditure of money...At some point, the town board has to take responsibility for allowing this situation to exist," Husek said.

Election

In his first-ever race for public office, Jost Nickelsberg was elected supervisor of Rensselaerville in November. Nickelsberg, the chair of the Rensselaerville Republican Party, will take over for his fellow Republican, Supervisor J. Robert Lansing, who decided to run for town board instead of supervisor.

Nickelsberg campaigned on a platform of continuing Lansing’s legacy of fiscal responsibility.

"He was a master of the budget and paid lots of attention to that," Nickelsberg said.

Nickelsberg defeated the Democratic Party chairman, David Bryan, a former supervisor, 515 to 378.

Bryan said Nickelsberg will probably do a good job.

"He’s got the same sort of ideas I have," Bryan said. "Let’s see if he can do them."

The Republicans held on to their 3-to-2 majority on the Rensselaerville town board in the election.

Two seats were open. Lansing won the most votes, with 454, followed by Democrat Sherri Pine, with 441. Republican Timothy Becker received 423 votes and incumbent Democrat Edward Steven Ryder lost his reelection bid with 396 votes.

This will be Pine’s first public office.

"I’m glad I won," Pine said. "I really want to help the town."

For highway superintendent, Democrat Jon Chase edged Republican challenger Stephen Wood, 470 to 458 in the unofficial results.

Problems at Cass

An escape of two juveniles from the Cass Residential in September reawakened fear in the town. The juveniles were quickly returned to the center by the State Police.

The Cass Residential Center, known by some locals as Camp Cass, is located outside of the hamlet of Rensselaerville on Camp Cass Drive, off of Route 353. It’s the home of 25 male delinquents, between the ages of 14 and 18.

September’s escape came less than a year after an escape last December in which a resident, Michael Elston, 16, of Buffalo, raped a 51-year-old employee and held her at knifepoint as they drove to Albany in her car. The victim was able to escape in Albany.

"There’s nobody even to warn you," said Adele Claypool, a long-time resident and close friend of Elston’s victim. "We’re basically in the woods here. They shouldn’t even be there. Obviously, they haven’t ever done a darn thing."

Rensselaerville’s supervisor is also worried.

"I’m concerned about the whole episode," Lansing said at the time.

A spokesman for the state Office of Children and Family Services refused to comment on how security is handled at the center or the qualifications of the guards.

"We constantly work to provide a safe and secure environment," said Brian Marchetti.

Albany County District Attorney David Soares has assigned an assistant district attorney to investigate allegations against the camp, said Soares’s spokesman, Richard Arthur. These allegations emerged during the prosecution of Elston, who received a 27-year prison sentence, one year short of the maximum, Arthur said. He would not comment on the allegations themselves.

ITAD dissolves

In June, Impulse Theatre and Dance, the Hilltowns’ only professional theater company, told The Enterprise it was calling it quits after a quarter of a century.

"We had a good run," said Richard Creamer, who started the company in 1983 in New York City with his wife, Nadia.

Creamer said the decision to close was driven by health concerns and the desire to spend time on other projects.

The Creamers brought ITAD with them when they moved to Rensselaerville from New York 14 years ago. Their company has produced plays, musicals, and dance shows, drawing performers from New York as well as the Capital Region. The group has been recognized several times, including by a grant from the New York State Council on the Arts.

Often, the company focused on lesser-known plays and performed with minimal set design, drawing attention to both the acting and the writing. It most recently found a home in Rensselaerville’s historic Conkling Hall.

"It was really a great experience for everybody," Creamer said.


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