P.O. plan looms over Knox biz district
KNOX — The Postal Service has a tentative plan to install boxes at Town Hall, and its former home was recently purchased for $65,000 as the town board moves forward with designating a business district in the same area.
The 1.5-acre property of the vacant general store and former Knox post office — closed for nine months — has been acquired by Knox resident Vasilios Lefkaditis, who plans to rent the space to businesses.
Thought to be a key part of developing commerce once in the hamlet and now absent, the town board still has to vote on the business district after a public hearing on Sept. 17.
“It was a gamble that I should not have taken, but I have faith in the town board and I have faith in the townspeople that have been pounding the table for a business district,” Lefkaditis said after the Aug. 13 town board meeting. He has been a vocal proponent of the district at planning board meetings.
Town board members had ideas for expanding and regulating the recommended business district. They voted unanimously Tuesday to hold two public hearings on Sept. 17. The first, at 7 p.m., is unrelated to the business district; it is for zoning changes to allow senior housing in response to recent project proposals.
The second hearing, at 8 p.m., is on a business district in the hamlet. All town board members have expressed a desire to encourage business in Knox.
Councilwoman Amy Pokorny said she would like to explore options for protecting historic homes within the district. Councilman Dennis Decker said a property on the west end of the hamlet has been for sale for a long time and could benefit from commercial zoning.
“Is there some urgency about doing this?” asked Pokorny.
“I think it would behoove the board to be pro-active with something like this, rather than waiting for someone else to knock on the door and say, ‘Hey, can I put a business?’ — I mean 40 years is a long time to wait,” Pamela Fenoff, planning board secretary and Republican candidate for town supervisor, said from the gallery.
The zoning ordinance, first created in 1974, has regulations for future business districts, but no designated boundaries. The comprehensive plan, adopted in 1995 as a blueprint for future growth and zoning, mentions the hamlet as a potential site of commercial activity.
Robert Price, the chairman of the planning board, told council members that the planning board used the specific mention of the hamlet area in its limitation of the business district.
The master plan states: “Other than recognizing the existing business activities, there is little room for any expansion, the lots are small, and there is no public water supply or sewer system.”
In order to re-establish any hamlet businesses, once allowed because they existed before the zoning law, the ordinance has to allow for them, Price noted.
The zoning ordinance requires a 100-foot buffer between any business district and residential district boundary lines. Price said the planning board decided not to change this provision, citing Section 70 of the ordinance, which gives the planning and town boards discretion in modifying regulations in certain circumstances.
Pokorny used to own the general store with her husband, now the town assessor, Russell Pokorny. She is currently in charge of surveying residents for their views on updating the town’s master plan and reported that almost 40 responses to the vision survey had been received. None of them expressed opposition to business in the town, she said. Knox has about 2,700 residents.
“I think the real-world issue is that’s not likely to happen,” said Price, adding that several competing businesses are a few miles down Route 156 in Altamont.
“Nobody ever mentions the premium,” Price said of the higher unit costs associated with a smaller-scale business.
The planning board voted in July to recommend a second business district on Route 146 but hasn’t forwarded the recommendation to the town board. Daniel Driscoll, a planning board member, said the planning board exhausted its August meeting time on senior housing and the hamlet business district before finalizing a draft notice for the second district.
Driscoll prepared environmental assessments for the proposed zoning changes that found there would be no significant impact to the environment.
The proposed amendment for senior housing in the zoning ordinance defines “seniors” as people age 55 or older. A new line for the residential use table allows senior housing, with site-plan approval, in all areas except for the two land-conservation districts.
Two separate proposals for senior housing have been brought to the planning board in recent months. One, from Chasity McGivern, is a 20-house rental property on Knox Cave Road. The other, from Linda Carman, is a two-story, 24-unit plan for apartments at an unspecified location.
Maureen Marion, spokeswoman for the United States Postal Service, told The Enterprise plans to install post-office boxes at Town Hall would await feedback from customers and residents, which could indicate the need for a village post office. She had no timeframe for the survey — sent to people with boxes temporarily moved to East Berne — and public meeting.
“I have offered them a clean slate; they have refused,” said Lefkaditis of the USPS. “I told them I would revamp the entire structure and give them a brand spanking new facility. They did not show any interest at this time.”
The USPS also declined an offer by the town to use space in the town hall for postal boxes. Marion said it was largely due to the limited hours the town hall is open.
Village post offices are associated with a separate entity, like a library or a general store, and don’t offer all USPS services, like certified mail and money orders. Stamps and flat-rate packages — the “bread and butter” of the postal service — are available at village post offices, Marion said.
The business has to have been established for at least one year, and, by law, it cannot serve alcohol, Marion said. The business manages the office, but a letter carrier still handles the mail.
The town’s full-service post office in the hamlet closed last November when leaks, mold, and rodents were found in the frame house it rented. Knox post-office box addresses were moved to boxes in the East Berne post office.
Addresses will remain the same if boxes are established on the grass beside the driveway between Town Hall and the Saddlemire Homestead, Marion said, and the outside boxes would include a box to deposit mail and a parcel locker, where packages could be received in secure boxes.
Marion estimated 75 Knox residents have post-office-box addresses. The rest of the town’s residents are served by rural-route carriers.
Lefkaditis is a Berne-Knox-Westerlo School Board member and the manager of Shaw Funding, a real-estate equity firm. He bought the hamlet property from Bayview Loan Services for $65,000.
Diane Campbell of Empire Real Estate said the property was originally listed for $145,000 at the end of 2012.
“You have a limited buyer base,” Campbell said. “Investors from Albany aren’t going to go out there to Knox because you have limited potential.”
Lefkaditis said he has ideas to help tenant businesses be successful, but would not explain them before the board votes.
“It’s not a not-for-profit, but the rents are going to be reasonable to attract people in,” Lefkaditis told The Enterprise.
He said he bought the property, near the intersection of Route 156 and Knox Cave Road, not as an investment, but to benefit the teenagers of Knox.
“I picture my children and other people’s children working there and getting their first taste of a work force,” said Lefkaditis.
Lefkaditis said he has always worked.
“My first job was at 11 years old….,” said Lefkaditis. With a delivery route of 120 newspapers, he said, he rode his bicycle strapped with two baskets to and from his house in Valley Stream, Long Island.
“The only person who had a bigger route was my buddy, Bubba Nick,” said Lefkaditis. From 15 to 18, Lefkaditis worked at a gas station, pumping gas, and checking oil and tire pressure. He said he later apprenticed building racecars.
More businesses in the school district, Lefkaditis noted, will increase its tax revenue.
Lefkaditis said he would likely change the façade of the former Knox County Store, a modern, metal structure next to the old wooden post office building. Both buildings would need new furnaces and boilers, new plumbing and wiring, and updated interiors, he said.
Of plans to purchase the house adjacent to the metal building, at the corner of the intersection, Lefkaditis said, “Not at this time.” He also said he hadn’t ruled out demolishing the buildings.
He previously bought two old buildings in the nearby hamlet of Berne; one, deemed a traffic hazard, is now slated for demolition. The other he hopes to use as his own office space.
In other business, the town board:
— Voted, 5 to 0, to authorize the payment of $8,670 for the new roof on the Saddlemire Homestead, owned by the town and used as the historical society museum and gathering place;
— Voted, 5 to 0, to extend a bond anticipation note for its Town Hall renovation for one year; to authorize the supervisor to pay the principal of $80,000 and interest of $11,199 to Key Bank; and to authorize the town attorney to write an opinion for Key Bank describing the town’s compliance with laws governing BAN renewal. After payment, $719,981 is owed.
Supervisor Michael Hammond said the interest rate is around 1.4 percent per year;
— Heard from Michael Vincent, Berne planning board member, in support of its hearing on zoning changes to allow senior housing.
“I think it’s a very good thing to do; the same with your business district,” Vincent told the board;
— Heard from Vincent Virano, who has a property dispute with neighbor Gerald Hackstadt.
“I’m still having a problem here dealing with the town out on Singer Road,” said Virano.
Virano is suing his neighbor, claiming Hackstadt has caused a private nuisance with commercial trucks in his barn. He has also asked the town to cite Hackstadt’s pool and house, which were built within the required setback next to Virano’s property.
“Mr. Virano, you have an attorney. I would suggest you speak with your attorney,” said John Dorfman, Knox’s town attorney. Dorfman also said the town had been tardy responding to Virano’s requests for documents but that they are now up to date.
The house has been given a variance; Zoning Administrator Robert Delaney concluded there was no zoning violation at the barn; and Dorfman said last month that the pool had been cited.
“Your attorney is welcome to call me,” Dorfman told Virano; and
— Voted, 5 to 0, to approve a request from town Clerk Kimberly Swain to destroy obsolete records, such as transfer-station receipts, from 1990 to 1999, and from 2000 to 2006, as well as Department of Environmental Conservation receipts from 2003 to 2005.