Letter: Review must include open space

Editor, The Spotlight:

Bethlehem is the sum of its parts: businesses along Delaware Ave, quiet suburban streets, working farms, the Hudson River shoreline, Elm Ave Park, industry around the rail yard, the list goes on. This diversity is what makes Bethlehem a complete community, and it is what will enable us to grow successfully as a community in the 21st century.

We cannot be complacent about any of these parts. We must actively pursue economic development to build our tax base. We must guide residential development to ensure the town doesn’t devolve into sprawl. And we must actively protect our open spaces.

Open space is parks and woods, bike paths, shorelines, and working farms. Open space breaks the monotony of suburban crawl, creates common places where the community can gather, absorbs stormwater to lessen flooding, maintains our cultural heritage, and provides habitat for birds and other wildlife.

Unfortunately, open space is commonly taken for granted until it disappears. How many times have we felt a sense of loss when that small wooded lot down the street grew a house or a farm field was filled with apartment buildings?

Losses like this will continue to happen in town – they’re a natural byproduct of growth. But fostering economic development and guiding residential construction doesn’t mean we have to lose every wooded lot and every working farm and every forest path.

Nearly ten years ago, Bethlehem adopted its first comprehensive plan. That plan speaks again and again of the value of open space and rightfully underscores its importance to maintaining Bethlehem’s character. But sadly, the plan falls short by failing to include a specific program that ensures such places will be preserved for future generations.

That’s why the local citizens group Bethlehem Tomorrow gathered more than 800 signatures calling for the creation of a town open space program.

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