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Open space opens discussion

Nearly 100 residents filled Town Hall Thursday, May 15, to get the first say on the town's ongoing endeavor to create an open space plan.

Landowners, businesspeople, residents, park enthusiasts, planners, and developers, along with members of the town board and the Citizens Advisory Committee on Conservation, all sat down together and discussed the future of Bethlehem.

Residents were broken into smaller groups to brainstorm what they envisioned for the town and what open space meant to them.

They then presented their findings, which will be included in the current study, to the rest of the audience.

John Behan of Behan Planning Associates is working as a consultant for the town to help shape the new land use policy. The town hired him strictly in an advisory capacity " not to draw up an open space plan himself, according to Supervisor Jack Cunningham.

"It's obviously a very individualist decision," Behan told residents at the beginning of the workshop. "What's important to you is important to us."

The town's open space plan will be a comprehensive land use plan that will give landowners more tools to protect their land or do what they want with it, according to Cunningham. But according to some landowners, the plan could do more harm than good by tying the hands of large landowners in town and actually taking options and opportunities away from them. Some residents previously criticized the board for not including enough farmers and large landowners in CACC.

The town's senior planner, Robert Leslie, stressed that landowners would get their say and would be a part of the planning process if they wanted to.

"We're making sure willing landowners are a part of the plan," Leslie said. "We're not taking a plan from another town and putting our name on it. We want to hear what Bethlehem wants."

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