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Hilltowns Archives —The Altamont Enterprise, November 22, 2007


Hilltown winners
Election results from absentee ballots


By Tyler Schuling

HILLTOWNS — Election results are in for Knox and Rensselaerville after absentee ballots were counted last week.

Democrats still dominate in Knox although, in two close races, Republican incumbents retained their posts.

Councilwoman Patricia Gage and Town Clerk Kimberly Swain, who had held slight leads over their opponents, will keep their seats.

After the Nov. 6 election, Gage — in a four-way race for two town board seats — had garnered just 27 more votes than Democrat Jeff Landauer, a former Knox highway superintendent.

Gage, the GOP chair for Knox, received 20 absentee votes, and Landauer received 13 votes.

Mary Ellen Nagengast, a Democrat making her first run for the town board and the top vote-getter in the election, garnered 14 votes, and Republican incumbent Joseph Best got 14 votes. The tally shows Nagengast with 28 percent of the vote, Gage with 25 percent, Landauer with 24 percent, and Best with 23 percent.

In her re-election bid for town clerk, Swain had just 10 more votes than her opponent, Democrat Deborah Liddle. Liddle had been town clerk from 2000 to 2006 until Swain defeated her in another close race two years ago.

Swain got 18 absentee votes to Liddle’s 15, bringing Swain’s tally to 501 and Liddle’s to 488.

In Rensselaerville, Democratic incumbent Gary Chase, making his third run, will keep his seat on the town board. Chase, a corrections officer, had held a slight lead — 45 votes — over Alynn Wright, a Republican making his first run for office.

Chase, in a four-way race for two seats, garnered 30 absentee votes, and Wright got 18 votes.

The board majority will swing from Republicans to Democrats on Jan. 1 as Democrat Marie Dermody, making her first run for office was the top vote-getter; she received 35 absentee votes. Republican incumbent Myra Dorman garnered 16 votes.

The tally shows Dermody at 29 percent of the vote, Chase at 27 percent, Wright at 23 percent, and Dorman at 21 percent.

Official results for the election will be posted on the board of elections’ website in about one week, according to Matthew Clyne, Democratic commissioner of the Albany County Board of Elections.




By Tyler Schuling

ALBANY — The battle continues over agricultural zoning in rural Rensselaerville. While the town board has the ultimate say on what laws are enacted, a small group of citizens — Rensselaerville Farmland Protection — went to the county planning board last week to fight for farmland preservation.

A majority of Rensselaerville citizens responding to a recent survey voted for 5-acre zoning in the town’s agricultural district and the committee proposing new zoning laws voted unanimously for the same.

Led by Vernon Husek and Jeanette Rice, former members of the committee that designed the town’s comprehensive plan, members of RFP want 20-acre zoning as outlined in the master plan.

The group of citizens attended the Albany County Planning Board meeting last Thursday. Their attorney, Jacqueline Phillips Murray, argued that there are inconsistencies between Rensselaerville’s proposed zoning law and the county’s right-to-farm law, adopted this year. Rensselaerville’s comprehensive land-use plan, adopted in March, calls for 20-acre zoning, not 5-acre zoning, in the agricultural district. Phillips Murray asked that the county planning board recommend disapproving the proposed zoning laws and subdivision regulations.

Since the town board adopted the comprehensive plan, a new committee recommended 5-acre zoning in the agricultural district and drafted new proposals for zoning laws and subdivision regulations.

A State Environmental Quality Review session and public comment period will be held on Dec. 5 at 7 p.m. at Town Hall, and a public hearing on the proposed laws will be held on Dec. 19 at 7 p.m.

Members of the farmland protection group spoke last week about national and regional conditions. Husek cited the nation’s growing population and rising fuel costs. Timothy Lippert, who had served for 11 years on Rensselaerville’s planning board, asked how a 5-acre requirement will support farming.

"We have a very limited scope. We only make recommendations," said John Biscone, a member of the county’s planning board. He added that the county board cannot make "individual, specific" decisions about things such as golf courses, soil consistencies, and the size of agriculture districts.

"That’s to be done at the local level...The most we can do is make a memo saying that you’ve got to be consistent," he said.
The county planning board decided to write a memo to the town, referencing the county’s right-to-farm law, to state the importance of farming and, at the behest of Biscone, to include a paraphrasing of Joanna Bull’s statement.

Bull, a member of Rensselaerville Farmland Protection, said, "I’m just an ordinary citizen...but I live now in this place where I see that agricultural soils are disappearing, not just in Rensselaerville, but across the country. They’re going. And...it matters. And the fact that this county has, in the past, said that it matters is what brought me here."

Bull said she hopes that the county cares about "a much larger issue" — that the agricultural soils in Rensselaerville are part of the county and a whole movement of preservation.

"Personally, I favor the idea of preserving farmland. I think it’s very important. Unfortunately...it’s not within our particular jurisdiction," said Michael DeVall, the county planning board’s chairman.

The board cannot object to a town’s zoning regulations, said Biscone. It can make suggestions and recommendations about the 5- and 20-acre discrepancy, he said, "so it’s publicly on the table."

According to Eamon Moynihan, spokesman with the state’s Department of State, a town’s comprehensive plan and its zoning laws and subdivisions "as a general rule" should match — meaning recommendations in a municipality’s comprehensive plan should be used as a template for its zoning laws and subdivision regulations — but if there are nuances, they are sorted out by the courts.

"The expressed purpose of that right-to-farm law that the county legislature had adopted was to maintain and preserve the agricultural traditions of Albany County," said Phillips Murray last week. The county’s plan encompasses three agricultural districts, one of which is in Westerlo and Rensselaerville, she said.

"Therefore, we believe that Albany County has recognized that Rensselaerville has agricultural resources and farmland to protect that is indeed something that’s of value to the county as a whole," said Phillips Murray.

History

Since the town’s master plan was adopted in March, a committee, consisting of many of the same members who drafted the master plan, has drafted new proposals for zoning laws and subdivision regulations. The group’s chairman, Thomas Mikulka, says the original committee’s work was rushed.

At a public hearing in April, the bill under consideration was for 10-acre zoning in the agricultural district. At the hearing, some members of the original land-use committee also said their work was rushed. A moratorium on major subdivisions was extended for six months and Mikulka replaced Husek, who resigned shortly after the committee’s plan was unanimously adopted by the town board.

In October, Mikulka said many changes were made — "some minor, some significant."

Mikulka has argued that large-lot zoning is unfair and decreases land values, causing landowners to suffer, while others outside of the district see increases in their land’s value.

The town recently sent out a survey to residents, and nearly two-thirds of those who responded voted for 5-acre zoning in the agricultural district. As residents decided between the two choices, Rensselaerville Farmland Protection sent a bulletin to residents, encouraging them to vote for 20-acre zoning.

Last week, the county’s planning board voted unanimously to send a memorandum to the town, referencing the county’s right-to-farm law.

Members of RFP have sent several letters to the Rensselaerville Town Board and to the county’s planning board. Husek said there is insufficient information available to the public. No maps are available at the town’s library for the public viewing, he said last week, and zoning maps have not been updated on the town’s website.

The town has discussed and made steps to apply for a $25,000 grant to research farmland protection. At its October meeting, the town board designated five individuals to ask to serve on the committee.


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