Planning board votes on Five Rivers proposal

Debate over a 20-foot access may have a sent a deal to donate nearly 25 acres of land to the Five Rivers Preservation by Carol Richards the way of the Dodo.

Richards' subdivision plan of building seven lots on a 35-acre plot and donating the rest of the land to the Open Space Institute and ultimately to Five Rivers, bringing the state preserve into Bethlehem, appears to have broken down in the planning process.

Talks between Richards' lawyers and the town came to a standstill over a 20-foot access to the property from Fischer Boulevard. Richards argued there was already an access on New Scotland Road and the 20-foot strip of land would traverse wetlands.

The town said it wanted Fisher Boulevard access because it fits in with the town's Comprehensive Plan of incorporating pedestrian pathways to recreational areas such as parkland and preserves. The access was described as of critical importance to the proposal.

Neither side could reach an acceptable agreement over the issue.

Acting planning board Chairman Howard Engel, who is filling the post for the remainder of the year following the recent death of former Chairman Parker Mathusa, said he understood both sides but hoped some agreement could still be reached.

Engel recommended the board approve proposal as it stood, with the Fisher Boulevard access, and forwarding a recommendation to the town board on the project as is.

The board voted in favor 6-to-1, with planning board member Katherine McCarthy casting the only dissenting vote. According to Richards' lawyer, Terresa Bakner, the vote effectively killed the proposal because of Richards' frustration over the matter.

"Unfortunately we seemed to have come to a roadblock. Things have happened, I'm not sure any of us are sure whey they have happened," Engel said. "I think the key to this whole thing is the relevance to the entire town of Bethlehem."

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