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Easements could offer tax relief

Legislation that helps preserve open space awaits governor’s signature

— The Town of Bethlehem is a step closer to providing tax exemptions on open space after the state legislature passed a measure to allow conservation easements for landowners.

The legislation, which was introduced by Sen. Neil Breslin and Assemblywoman Patricia Fahy in May, passed both houses before the end of session last week. Bethlehem Supervisor John Clarkson said the town is now waiting on Gov. Andrew Cuomo to sign the bill.

“The governor has until the end of the year, but we would obviously like him to sign it earlier then that so we can continue to move forward,” said Clarkson. “We plan on writing the governor and others in his administration in hopes he signs it soon, and I would expect success.”

When the legislation was introduced, Breslin said there were numerous benefits to preserving open space, but communities often don’t have the funds to do so. 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.”

For years, different advisory groups have suggested a conservation easement for the town, but the idea was reintroduced in February as a possible goal for the Bethlehem’s new Open Space Technical Advisory group. Some large landowners also expressed interested in an exemption during the recent reassessment processes as another way to provide tax relief.

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 has been discussing the guidelines for Bethlehem’s program. In early May, Planning Director Rob Leslie presented the Bethlehem Town Board with examples of conservation easements in other municipalities across the state.

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