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Hilltowns Archives —The Altamont Enterprise, August 3, 2006

For 15 years
Planning board pushes to close loophole

By Saranac Hale Spencer

KNOX — For more than 15 years, the planning board has been pushing for an amendment to the town’s subdivision regulations that would eliminate the "one-cut rule" loophole.

The rule was originally intended to make it easy for farmers to pass land on to their children, but its foes say that the allowance has been abused by developers to bypass planning-board review. As it stands now, a landowner can subdivide his property once every 18 months without seeking planning board approval.

The subdivision regulations for the town of Knox, adopted in 1979, define a subdivision as: "The division of any parcel of land into three or more lots, blocks or sites" Although this definition exempts transactions involving the division of land into two lots, any additional division of either lot within 18 months of the original division will constitute a subdivision for the purpose of this regulation."

"That was the biggest mistake I made in my whole life," Daniel Driscoll, who chaired the planning board in 1979 and was instrumental in drafting the regulations, told The Enterprise last week.

The biggest problem that has come as a result of the exemption, said Driscoll, is that the town can’t properly enforce its subdivision regulations. One of the avenues usually used for enforcement is the county clerk’s office; since a map detailing any subdivision has to be submitted to the office, it can usually act as a check to make sure that subdivisions are legal. Because of the one-cut rule, Driscoll said, not every map submitted to the clerk’s office needs to have planning board approval, so the clerk will accept maps without the planning board’s stamp.

"This is the first I’ve heard of such a rule," said Albany County Clerk Thomas Clingan on Wednesday when asked about the problem. He said that his office won’t accept a map that doesn’t have the municipality’s approval.

Planning board Chairman Robert Price and town board member Nick Viscio agreed with Driscoll that the loophole is problematic because property owners can skirt the town entirely.

"The other nightmare to this thing is the record-keeping" Viscio told The Enterprise on Wednesday. "The town doesn’t know what’s going on until some stakes show up in the ground."

The other way the subdivision regulations can be enforced, said Driscoll, is by the town’s zoning administrator and building inspector, who is not blocked by the exemption. Robert Delaney, who holds that post in Knox, said that he thinks the 18-month period required between subdivisions effectively prohibits abuse from developers. He told The Enterprise this week, "If a developer is willing to wait that length of time, he’s not developing any faster than a major subdivision would."

The private roads that can come out of unplanned subdivisions, though, are the other major concern. Both Price and Driscoll gave similar scenarios to demonstrate the problem: A tract of land is subdivided so that it would have two houses on the original driveway. Eighteen months later, it can be subdivided again. There would then be three houses on a road that requires maintenance. The neighbors wouldn’t want to be responsible for shouldering the cost of snow removal or maintenance so they would ask the town to take over the road.

The biggest problem with the one-cut rule, said Price, "is the potential for multiple-use driveways turning into requests for the town to take over roads."

Bringing substandard roads up to meet town regulations is expensive, said Viscio. Although the town hasn’t taken over any roads as a result of one-cut rule subdivisions, he said that, since he has been on the board, there have been a few requests from residents for town stewardship of their private roads.

"I’ve talked with other planners about the one-cut rule," said Driscoll. "They’re aghast that we still have it."


Adopted by the planning board in 1990, the amendment to the Knox subdivision regulations would change the number of parcels constituting a subdivision from three to two, meaning that any division of land would be subject to planning-board review. The town board has not acted on the proposed amendment.

A memorandum sent to the Knox Town Board in 1990 from Robert Gwin, who was the chairman of the planning board at the time, included a list of complaints from the public hearing on the amendment held in 1989, each paired with a response from the planning board.

"The primary objection was that this amendment is an additional and unwarranted restriction of a land-owner’s right to sell land," according to the memo. Viscio said that the biggest obstacle for the amendment being passed by the town board is still public opinion; people favor "freedom" to do what they like with their land. Viscio suggested that changing the period that a property owner has to wait between subdivisions from 18 months to three years might be a good compromise.

This alternative was mentioned at the public hearing in 1989, according to the memo, and the planning board responded that "any exemption would continue to interfere with the enforcement of our Subdivision Regulations by the County Clerk, a major consideration."

Another suggestion at the public hearing was that the board should hold off on the amendment until after the town’s comprehensive plan is finished to see what the committee would recommend. Although the board did not take that suggestion at the time, the comprehensive plan has since been finished.

Adopted on March 14, 1995, Knox’s comprehensive land-use plan recommends that the town eliminate the two-lot subdivision exemption.

The comprehensive plan argues that planning-board review of subdivisions offers the opportunity for layout that will preserve the rural character of the area; the initial two-lot exemption was meant to make it easy for farmers to pass land to their children.

When asked how often the exemption is used for that purpose, Delaney answered: "That’s hard to say; we’ve only got a couple of farmers left in town."


The town’s supervisor, Michael Hammond, said that the town board last approached the amendment issue a year ago.

"There wasn’t enough support to pass it," he said.

"Removing that exemption is very unpopular," said Driscoll, although the planning and zoning boards are in favor of the amendment. Price agreed that "the planning board is of the mind that the town of Knox should do away with the one-cut rule."

"It’s a difficult political issue in town," said Viscio.

"You don’t hear of this in other towns; it’s certainly a means of circumventing the planning process," he said. "We need to deal with it before we have big problems."

Poetry in Motion
‘Alternative therapy to go hand-in-hand with vet care’

By Saranac Hale Spencer

KNOX — Creatures on two legs and four legs, long legs and short legs, suffer from muscle aches and pains, bumps, and sprains.

Teri Stark, a Knox native, has opened Poetry in Motion, a canine and equine massage business. Sort of like physical therapy for animals, massage is good for animals that have been injured or are arthritic, she said.

"It’s not just a luxury," said Stark. "It’s a great alternative therapy to go hand-in-hand with vet care." Her going rate for a dog starts at $30, for a horse $50. Sessions are at least an hour, she said, the length varies. Massage is good for any animal with a circulatory system, she said; it helps release toxins.

Stark recalled that she once had a baby blue jay with a leg that wasn’t working well, so she tried massaging the hurt leg. "It really helped him out," she said.

Growing up showing horses, she saw a lot of horses in pain but noticed that they would keep working, said Stark. When people get hurt, they understand when a doctor tells them to rest, but, she said, when animals get hurt, they still think that they can keep going.

"My heart went out to those horses," she said.

Stark graduated with an equine massage certification in 2003 and is now back on her family’s property in Knox, where she says she will do some of her work. She’ll also make house calls. "The main thing is to keep them calm and relaxed," she said.

Explaining that animals strain muscles just like humans do, Stark said, "A muscle is a muscle."

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