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Bethlehem adopts farmland protection plan

68 percent of the town's farmland is located within the Ravena Coeymans Selkirk School District, or the southern part of town.

Among other recommendations the plan made is that the town study purchase of development rights or term conservation easement programs, which essentially provide tax breaks or other incentives to landowners who agree not to develop their land for a certain period of time.

"This program would obviously have to be researched to identify what the fiscal implications would be for the town," said Senior Planner Robert Leslie.

The plan also recommends that education programs be pursued in town and schools to emphasize the importance of farming, that the town's agriculture zoning be reexamined to allow for more agri-tourism uses and that an Agricultural Advisory Committee be established to keep the Town Board informed on agricultural issues.

The plan was hailed by members of the Town Board as an example of collaborative efforts between town offices, agricultural organizations and the citizenry. American Farmland Trust, for example, visited and interviewed 10 farmers in town, and there were several public hearings during the drafting of the plan.

"This was a great opportunity for public participation," said Councilman Kyle Kotary.

"Where the rubber meets the road on this is going to be the financial aspects, the economic incentives," he continued.

Adoption of the plan does not bind the town to enact its recommendations. With the development of any PDR or conservation easement program, for example, a more comprehensive study would be conducted before a resolution was drafted.

Leslie noted that many state and federal programs are very competitive, but also said nearby areas like Clifton Park have been successful in piloting conservation easement programs.

"We're going to have to come up with some creative ideas," he said. "I think there are some other models out there we can look at."

The Agricultural and Farmland Protection Plan is available for viewing on the town's Web site.

The cost of preparing the study was largely offset by a $25,000 state Department of Agriculture and Markets grant. The town had to chip in about $1,200 in matching funds in addition to the work Planning Department staff did.

Also on Tuesday, a public hearing was scheduled for a noise abatement and containment local law, or noise ordinance. The public will have an opportunity to present views to the board at the Wednesday, Dec. 9, meeting.

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