Letter: Review must include open space

The signatories live throughout Bethlehem and are united in the view that open space is a vital part of our community that needs to be actively protected through a town open space program. This program must:

Be part of a comprehensive plan. We need economic development and we need strategic residential development. We also need open space to maintain the full character of the town. These three things are not mutually exclusive. Rather, they are integral parts of a comprehensive vision for Bethlehem.

Respect landowners. An open space program creates opportunities for landowners who want to keep their land as working farms or undeveloped woods or the like. It is an option, not an obligation. Landowners who don’t want to participate don’t have to.

Be fiscally responsible. We need to be strategic about which properties we choose to invest in rather than scrambling to respond when opportunities arise unexpectedly (the Normanside Country Club is a case in point). We also need to have a clear plan for how to fund any conservation efforts. Fully tapping state, federal, and private funding sources is particularly important to reducing costs to the town – and we can’t take advantage of these monies without a program in place.

Walk the walk. An open space program is meaningless if it is nothing more than conversations and documents on shelves. Open space protection needs to be thoroughly integrated into zoning, development designs, and strategic outreach to potentially interested landowners of parcels both large and small.

The town will soon be launching a review of the comprehensive plan, which means now is the ideal time to create a truly comprehensive plan that includes an active open space program.

As a community, we have learned that we cannot continue to take the unique character of Bethlehem for granted. We must start an open space program now to ensure that Bethlehem grows economically while protecting the places that make it so wonderful. Otherwise, we’ll lose our treasured open spaces forever.

David VanLuven


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