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Hilltowns Archives —The Altamont Enterprise, August 10, 2006

Hilltowns considering strategies to keep rural character intact

By Saranac Hale Spencer

HILLTOWNS — Rural character is hard to maintain when farmlands are subdivided into residential plots.

Planning strategies created to deal with encroaching development in rural areas aim to preserve open spaces and farmlands while allowing for new development in parts of the town. Helderberg towns have been discussing some of these land-use controls in an effort to protect their agricultural roots.

Berne, Knox, Westerlo, and Rensselaerville have all recently considered some form of land-use control, though none have committed to one yet.

"There’s not just one, there has to be a lot of strategies," said Nan Stolzenberg, a planner who has worked with several local municipalities. She favors a "toolbox" approach to planning, meaning that a town can implement different strategies to reach its goals.

Some of the land-use controls laid out in the Helderberg Escarpment Planning Guide include such common strategies as site plan review, special permits, and variances as well as a half-dozen newer ideas like overlay zones, which are additional zoning districts that require more specific building standards for the areas that they cover. The guide is a handbook produced in 2002 by the Helderberg Escarpment Planning Committee that details the environment, history, and planning that is specific to the region.

Berne, a town that Stolzenberg is working with, is looking into conservation subdivision as a planning strategy, said Supervisor Kevin Crosier. The advantage to that plan is that it gives the planning board flexibility, said Crosier. Instituting a conservation-subdivision strategy starts with identifying the important environmental features of the land, said Stolzenberg, and then placing the houses around those features.

"The basic idea is to design the subdivision around the environmental resources on the site rather than starting from the area and setback regulations applicable to typical subdivisions," according to the Helderberg Escarpment Planning Guide. The lot lines are the last part of the subdivision plan, which is the opposite of what is usually done.

"A lot of planning and regulations have been borrowed from the suburbs," said Stolzenberg as she talked to The Enterprise about problems with current development practices in the Hilltowns.

Crosier said that it is important for Berne to preserve its open spaces and look at different ways to do that. "For so many years, people have looked at subdivisions as a cookie cutter," he said.

Transfer of development rights

Similar in objective is transfer of development rights, a strategy that was recommended in Rensselaerville’s comprehensive land-use plan 16 years ago, said Vernon Husek, chair of the citizens’ land-use review committee in Rensselaerville. The town has formed the committee to put together a new comprehensive plan; since TDR was recommended in the current plan the likelihood that the committee will include it in the new one is high, he told The Enterprise on Tuesday.

Though the town adopted the current plan 16 years ago, it didn’t put that aspect of it into law. "It was clear that it didn’t have enough political support," said Husek of why the town board didn’t act on the TDR recommendation.

Supervisor Jost Nickelsberg told The Enterprise that he thinks the town board would adopt TDR as law if the new plan recommends it. "That would be one way to keep the rural characteristics of the town," he said.

Implementing a TDR policy begins similarly to conservation subdivision, in that the town looks at the environmental features of the land. Where it differs is that it assesses the town as a whole, deciding what areas to designate as either "sending" or "receiving" zones, said Gary Kleppel, a Knox resident and proponent of TDR’s.

The sending zones are the areas that have important environmental, agricultural, or aesthetic features that will be protected, and the receiving zones are the parts of town where development will be focused.

"The town decides where to develop instead of developers," said Kleppel.

Once the zones are established, property owners can sell the development rights that they have for their properties.

For example, in a town where property owners are allowed to build a house every three acres, if someone owns 30 acres in a sending zone, he has the development rights for 10 houses. He can sell those rights at market value to a developer who can then use the rights to build 10 houses on less than three acres each in a receiving zone.

This saves money for developers because they won’t have to build as many roads or spend as much on piping, said Kleppel. "By selling the development rights on their land, farmers can realize much of the value of their land for development, and at the same time retain the land for long-term agricultural use," according to the definition of TDR in the Helderberg Escarpment Planning Guide.

"I think it would be the right idea," said Daniel Driscoll, of TDR for the town of Knox. Driscoll is a long-time member of the Knox Planning Board and co-editor of the guide.

Planning board Chairman Robert Price doesn’t see it that way. He said that, instead of implementing a policy like TDR, the town should practice "very careful and enlightened planning."

Developers wouldn’t want to build near the hamlet, said Price, because there isn’t a large enough business district to attract people to live there. Also, the town of Knox doesn’t have a public water or sewer system, he said. Price cited a recent development on 160 acres off of Route 146 in Knox, for half-million-dollar houses on nine lots, as a good example of planning in the town.

"It’s an exercise in denial if you look at the reality of the hamlet," said Price.

The town of Knox completed a comprehensive plan in 1995 that made recommendations about planning that went largely unrecognized by the town. The towns of Berne and Rensselaerville also have master plans that have not been entirely codified into law.

Westerlo is putting together a committee and hiring a planner to come up with the first master plan for the town. Since the project is in its infancy, the town isn’t sure what sort of strategies will come from it, town board member, Gregory Zeh, told The Enterprise. The town wants to preserve its open spaces and rural character, he said.

"In the town of Westerlo, we’re kind of behind the times," said Zeh. "We’re trying to catch up."

Stolzenberg said that she often hears rural town residents say, "We like it just the way it is." She went on, "You have to work hard to keep it the way it is."

Private roads plowed by town

By Tyler Schuling

KNOX — The town of Knox has been servicing roads — Whipple, Malachi, and Helderberg — that taxpayers may or may not be responsible for. Whipple Road, for example, is partly private and partly town-owned and has been serviced and maintained for years by the town’s highway department.

Councilman Joe Best asked at Tuesday night’s town board meeting how the town had come to own half of Whipple Road.

Supervisor Michael Hammond said it’s a product of subdivision that goes back to the 1970’s.

"I don’t know if I should be maintaining these roads," Highway Superintendent Gary Salisbury said Tuesday night.

"We’ve been servicing them, using the taxpayers’ money, but they don’t necessarily belong to us," he said.

"We will continue to maintain the roads," Superintendent Michael Hammond told The Enterprise yesterday.

Other business

In other business, the town board:

— Changed the speed zone on Craven Road to 30 miles per hour;

— Learned that Carol Barber, who has taken the minutes for the planning and zoning boards, and Martin Strnad, a planning board member since Jan., have resigned from their positions on the planning board;

— Agreed to pay $26,637 to the Altamont Rescue Squad for coverage in part of Knox; the other part is covered by Helderberg Ambulance since Knox has no service of its own;

— Heard that the diseased trees at the historical society’s museum have been removed. Councilman Dennis Decker got National Grid to cut down the trees; Highway Superintendent Salisbury got rid of the debris, but one diseased tree remains. Board members discussed whether maples should be replanted to enhance the barren area;

— Heard about improvements that have been made to the town hall, which is used as a polling place. Soft ground has been hardened and a new door handle has been added to the building to comply with the Help America Vote Act;

— Discussed the problem of non-residents using the transfer station, which has been creating an overflow of garbage. The station is to be used only by current residents. Board members and townspeople discussed reissuing permits every few years, and measures which could be taken to reduce the influx; and

— Learned that on Monday, Sept. 11, the Knox Volunteer Fire Company will host a memorial for victims of the 2001 terrorist attacks.

New Yorker cooks across the world, lands in Knox

By Tyler Schuling

KNOX — Glenn DiPaula knows the restaurant business. DiPaula, who recently opened The Hilltop Bistro, began his career in the food industry at an early age.

At six he was cutting doughnuts and preparing desserts for his father’s Manhattan bakery. The experience of growing up around his father and the food business, DiPaula believes, instilled in him an obligation to perfect his recipes and provide his customers with good value.

"I give large portions, and I use only the freshest ingredients," DiPaula said.

DiPaula uses local produce, dairies, and butchers. His mornings are spent preparing his meats, pizza dough, and shopping for his day-and-a-half supply for his kitchen.

"I only have on hand what I need," DiPaula said. "I’ve seen a lot of waste occur throughout my experience in this business, and there’s no place for it."

Authenticity is also very important to the certified chef.

"When I was growing up at the bakery, my dad had a guy from Germany who did all the cakes, an Italian guy who did the bread and rolls, and another guy from Denmark who prepared all the pastries. I learned a lot from being in that environment. My pizza is a true, authentic New York style pizza. My sauce and my dough are authentic. I make the dough fresh every day — a 25-pound batch — and I prep all my meats and sauces," DiPaula said.

At 18, DiPaula began his career by entering the Marine Corps. While stationed at Camp Johnson in North Carolina, DiPaula served as a cook and mess hall inspector on the food service team in the second Marine division. From North Carolina, DiPaula was transferred to Okinowa, Japan where he ended his tour of duty.

Following his term of service, DiPaula attended California Culinary College for a six-year program. The first four years he spent attending classes and then had two apprenticeships.

DiPaula spent his first year as an apprentice in San Francisco at Fisherman’s Wharf learning seafood preparation and his last year as an apprentice in Oslo, Norway, where he focused on chocolates and confections.

Following culinary school, DiPaula began his career with Disney in Anaheim, Calif., where he worked briefly before moving to Florida. He continued working for Disney, employed at The Wilderness Lodge in Disney World, one of the theme park’s resorts, for 16 years, opening teams and implementing theme concepts in dining and guest rooms.

"My job," DiPaula said, "was to take a concept from the floor, build it up, research it, and perfect it. This meant knowing a lot about culture and a lot about food — what ingredients were needed, where the best ingredients could be obtained, and how to obtain those ingredients."

While employed by Disney, DiPaula was sent to Kansas City to learn the art of mesquite barbecue.

Satisfying customers

In 1997, DiPaula took a semi-retirement package due to Disney downsizing and moved back to New York.

DiPaula, who has since worked for Indian Hills Golf Club on the north shore of Long Island and helped open New Scotland’s J.J. Maddens, is very optimistic about The Hilltop.

DiPaula has the support of Owen and Mickey Rivenburg, owners of Lucky’s Tavern, as well as the services and support of his life partner, Kathy Santoro. He has created a menu he believes the public will find pleasurable, created affordable prices for the menu items, and has all new equipment in his kitchen.

The Hilltop Bistro’s menu consists of appetizers (hot wings, quesadillas, fries, potato skins, chicken fingers, and fried mozzarella), authentic New York-style pizza, burgers, chicken breast sandwiches, pulled pork and pulled chicken sandwiches, and all beef hot dogs.

Menu items range in price from $3.25 to $10.95.

Each Thursday night from 5 to 8 p.m. the bistro offers an Italian buffet which consists of pizza, pasta, roast pork, salads, and desserts. The price for the buffet is $9.95 for adults and $4.95 for kids.

Each Sunday from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. The Hilltop offers a Sunday brunch buffet consisting of eggs to order, a pancake station for kids, and various continental and hot food items. The price for the buffet is $6.95 for adults and $3.95 for kids.

DiPaula, who is involved in every aspect of The Hilltop Bistro’s operation, from the buying of fresh ingredients, to cooking and waiting tables, believes certain approaches and philosophies prove strong and long-lasting in the restaurant business.

"Guest satisfaction must come before profit," DiPaula said.

"I just want to pay my bills, do what I know and love to do, give the public a good value, and not charge them an arm and a leg."

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