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Open space debate back on in Bethlehem

Proposal stokes discussion about plans to buy land

— One proposed way to fund this acquisition was to levy a dedicated property tax. Another was to borrow for the funds.

A committee would be formed to vet land investments.

Arguments for adopting the plan include that developed land ostensibly costs more in services than it generates in property taxes and that there are grant opportunities for preservation purposes.

Members of the audience were clearly divided on exactly how — or if — the town should invest in open space. It was reminiscent of the debate surrounding the town's bid to acquire the Normanside Country Club lands when they went up for auction earlier this year.

Some, then and now, said such purchases are shortsighted and irresponsible, especially during tough times. Jeremy Near, who is running for Town Board on the Republican line, went so far as to label the effort a “government land grab” that would actually reduce the tax rolls.

“People that own land will get taxed for the government to then purchase land, which to me doesn't make a whole lot of sense,” he said.

Ed Kleinke, who was part of the aforementioned meeting over the white paper, said it's landowners who are the best stewards of open space. The town has other, less costly mechanisms like proper planning and zoning to help it manage community character, he argued.

“I'm a little disappointed that what you're looking at tonight kind of leaves out large landowners,” he said.

But others saw such a program as a mechanism for investment in their town.

Resident Karen Shaw said she's willing to pay for the type of community she wants to live in, and reckoned that this program, if done right, could benefit everyone.

“I don't see anybody losing in the open space plan,” she said. “It's a complicated issue, and I respect that, but we all live here together.”

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Comments

RichardReevesEllington 2 years, 11 months ago

This article brings up an point that has an important undercurrent. It begs the question as to what type of community, Bethlehem citizens want. One side would have "development" as a priority in order to continually increase the tax base.The development has taken three primary forms: industrial, retail, and apartments. A secondary is private home building on once wooded sites. On the other side are people who place the traditional sense on community, people services and support, and support of existing businesses.

As I have walked Bethlehem, I find a majority putting the traditional community to the fore. When they do support "development" they want it at costs which benefits the Town: living wages for those employed, minimal pollution, and all the infrastructure costs covered by the new businesses and not primarily at the tax payer expense. The net effect of development should be measurable improvement to our community and these improvements explained to citizens before proceeding.

The problem is that all the current data is anecdotal and needs better quantification. This can be collected in town meetings, monthly board meetings, and on line questionnaires. If elected supervisor, I would put this basic question to Bethlehem citizens before proceeding on piece meal approaches.

For more about me please go to bethlehemsupervisor.com

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