Report: Bethlehem open space preservation will take cooperation

Maintaining and building upon open space in the Town of Bethlehem will require not only the efforts of town government, but the cooperation of large landowners in the town.

That's according to the findings of the town's Citizens Advisory Committee on Conservation's study on open space preservation. The report was compiled in July and presented to the Town Board on Wednesday, Oct. 14.

The report identifies existing open space resources in the town and outlines 15 recommendations to the Town Board for maintaining and expanding the town's resources. While it is not an open space plan, said Senior Planner Robert Leslie, it sets the groundwork for moving forward.

What we have here is a good framework for addressing some of the issues related to open space, he said.

The Town Board commissioned the study in February of 2008"development of an open space protection plan was part of the 2005 comprehensive plan. Since then, the CACC has met 17 times to discuss the issue and has held four public comment sessions.

The committee identified and mapped three open space elements present in the town: recreational and pathways spaces, agricultural lands and natural areas. Agricultural preservation was studied in another recently completed report that ran concurrently with the open space effort.

It is important that the town acknowledge that the citizenry"especially large landowners with seven or more acres of land"will play a part in the process, said Leslie.

"Any type of open space protection in the town is really going to require the voluntary participation of landowners in the town," he said.

CACC Chairwoman Libby Liebschutz echoed those thoughts, and added that the report represents a cooperative victory between sometimes conflicting points of view.

"The CACC really represents a cross section of interests in the town," she said.

In meetings with landowners, a number of issues came to the forefront, including concerns about trespassing. The report states if landowners have issues with trespassers, who might use ATVs or snowmobiles on private property, they are less likely to leave their land undeveloped. Consequently, a dialogue between the police department and landowners should be developed, says the report.

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