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Bethlehem approves new open space program

Group would continue work of earlier committees

— While a new open space program has been formed in the Town of Bethlehem, some residents felt no more could be achieved than what had already been discussed in prior community groups.

Formation of the new open space program was approved Wednesday, Feb. 12, by the town board. The main objective is to establish a citizen advisory group, which would work to evaluate lands the town may want to preserve for open space.

“The goal is to identify criteria that can help the Board in making decisions on open space preservation in the event that properties and willing land owners come forward to preserve their land or look for the opportunity for the town to purchase land or development rights,” said town Planning Director Rob Leslie.

The subject of open space has been a major issue in the town for more than a decade as officials and residents work to make sure there is a balance between new development and land preservation. A number of former citizens groups have discussed the topic, such as the Citizens Advisory Committee on Conservation and the more recent Comprehensive Plan Assessment Committee.

Leslie said the new program was meant to create the criteria, which would recommend the preservation of land, establish a capital reserve fund for the purchase of land and work on education and outreach. Once land was obtained, it would also be the group’s mission to decide what would be the best way to preserve the land, through zoning or a land trust.

Supervisor John Clarkson said the issue was being taken up again because residents have repeatedly indicated they would support such an effort.

Lisa Evens, a representative of the local conservation group Bethlehem Tomorrow, said her organization was in favor of the group and once again brought the Town Board a petition from two years ago with 900 signatures asking for such a group. Mark King, executive director of the Mohawk Hudson Land Conservancy, also commended the town for “tackling” the subject.

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