Open space program moves ahead in Bethlehem

Some local landowners wary of group’s role

— Some large landowners within the town continue to be upset by the Town Board’s decision to go forward with its new open space program.

The Bethlehem Town Board approved the program on Wednesday, March 12, but some residents previously said they felt the new program would allow large quantities of land to be taken off the tax rolls, and landowners could potentially have some of their property rights taken away.

“You want the town to maintain some of its rural character,” said resident Nancy Neff to the Board, “as do the people who own the lands, or they wouldn’t have continued to hold on to them for so long. However, in this constant need to preserve and control, the town is increasing the burden and taking away the pleasure of working the land.”

Neff said she was also concerned that no one who was appointed to the open space committee was a large landowner, and if the town opted to enact new laws concerning open space, landowners would be forced to cooperate instead of willingly participating.

“It seems like an act of coercement,” she said.

Others felt the program was greatly needed, as open space has been a major issue in the town for more than a decade.

Officials and residents have worked to make sure there is a balance between new development and land preservation, and 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.

The new program is meant to create the criteria the town deems most important, such as recommending the preservation of land, establishing a capital reserve fund for purchases and working on 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.

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