BETHLEHEM Bethlehem residents who followed the debate over the Normanside Country Club earlier this year would have had a healthy dose of deja vu stepping into tonight's Town Board meeting, when the issue of open space — and how town might be involved in its preservation — reared its head once again.
Strictly speaking, the topic was a proposal put forward by the private group Bethlehem Tomorrow that pitched to the town a structure in which it might invest in open spaces, either by negotiating agreements with landowners to not develop their land or buying property outright.
The white paper was actually presented to the town over a year ago, in September of 2010, and since then town officials, members of Bethlehem Tomorrow, members of the town's Citizens Advisory Committee on Conservation (or CACC, a group that is basically defunct, having not met in over two years), members of other conservancy groups and large landowners have met to discuss the subject.
This time span was clearly a point of consternation for some of the many people who spoke up at tonight's board meeting.
“It looks really, really bad,” said Valerie Newell, who served as a member of the CACC. She added that the group had furnished the town with its own study in 2009.
Supervisor Sam Messina, who put the issue on the agenda, said nothing's been done in the dark and he wants to encourage an open discussion. He was clearly supportive of getting some manner of open space preservation plan in place, though.
“I thought it was a winner for the Town of Bethlehem and there were no downsides,” he said of Bethlehem Tomorrow's proposal.
“The open space program is a program, it's not a plan. That's a very important concept,” Messina added.
That program, in short, would involve as little as spending $6,500 for research and as much as $2.1 million per year to acquire multiple parcels of land. A “medium program” would involve spending about $700,000 to purchase two parcels, and in a memo to the Town Board Messina recommended all or part of this option be considered for implementation in the 2012 budget.