Bethlehem has open dialogue over open space

The main issues concerning the Town of Bethlehem's possible open-space plan appear to be outright conservation, private ownership rights, recreational opportunities, development potentials and the major sticking point: money for open space.

On Wednesday, July 1, Town Planner Jeff Lipnicky gave a presentation to a couple dozen residents on an open space protection plan that created an agriculture and farmland protection subcommittee to address issues, needs and opportunities.

The purpose was to create a "bottom-up process" of open space protection with "a heavy dose of participation" from town residents.

Lipnicky said simply defining what open space means has been a reoccurring theme.

"This whole process of open space protection involved the voluntary participation of willing land owners," he said. The town held a meeting of "large landowners" in May of 2008, which was any town resident with seven acres or more of property. The meeting brought up many of the concerns about respect for private property and trespassing.

A draft report from the town states that open space opportunities often present themselves as development of the town continues.

"As the Town of Bethlehem continues to grow and evolve, new development projects will continue to be undertaken, and existing development sites may also be renovated or

redeveloped," it states. "As such, there is an opportunity to preserve open space resources such as wetlands, streams, and steep slopes during the development process. Cumulatively, the preservation of these various resources across several development sites can provide the benefit of preservation on a larger town-wide scale."

Senior Planner Rob Leslie said recreation and pathways, parkland, agriculture and farmlands, and natural resources have all been discussed in various meetings held in town.

Education is another theme aimed at residents, according to Leslie, as well as the money issue.

"The fiscal ramifications really need to be looked at before the Town Board makes any decisions," Leslie said.

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