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Lawmakers seek open space break

Exemption could help Bethlehem landowners

Two state lawmakers are backing the Town of Bethlehem’s plan to allow conservation easements for landowners.

State Sen. Neil Breslin and Assemblywoman Patricia Fahy in mid-May introduced legislation that would allow the town to grant tax exemptions on open space. The idea was first discussed in February as a possible goal for the Bethlehem’s new Open Space Technical Advisory group. Others discussed interest in having such an exemption during the recent reassessment processes as another way to provide tax relief.

“We’re optimistic that the bill will pass,” said Supervisor John Clarkson. “We want to help our residents in any way we can, but only landowners who wish to participate would have to do so.”

Landowners could see an exemption of 50 to 90 percent on their general municipal and school district taxes by participating in the program, according to the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance.

The exemption would mainly be based on how long they committed their land to remain open space, with the shortest amount of time being 15 years. No development can occur on the land during the easement’s timeframe.

The town’s Open Space Technical Advisory group is discussing the guidelines for Bethlehem’s program. Clarkson said the first step is to get the bill passed in the legislature to make sure the exemption is legal.

“The benefits of preserving open space are numerous, but so often communities have a difficult time preserving undeveloped lands and conserving open space. Towns just don’t have enough funds available for preservation of such lands,” said Breslin in a statement. “Creating an open space tax exemption can be a vital tool for land preservation and doesn’t require the appropriation of any new funds.”

Fahy said the program would help the town promote open space preservation in “a fair manner,” while calling Bethlehem a “model community for land-use planning.”

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