Neighborhoods change. Whether you live in the rural farmlands or urban city blocks. Neighbors change based on who wants to live there, and who wants to leave. Based on those two factors alone, you can’t do much about it.
Colonie and Bethlehem have both cultivated communities in which people look to move into. Award winning schools, outstanding town amenities, relatively low taxes, desirable real estate properties, and potential neighbors to share a cookout with. It’s why we all live here. It’s why people move here.
Development has been an oft-covered topic in this newspaper the past several years. Residential and mixed use complexes are popping up at every vacant corner. For long-time residents, the farmland and mature trees they grew accustom to seeing through their drives or walks through town, are disappearing. So, when a family farm is sold to make room for a housing development, we see letters bemoaning change.
Change is inevitable, and perhaps that is well understood. What’s at issue is the maturation of our hometown’s character. Speak to a baby boomer who grew up in this area, and they’ll recall taking part in the 4-H Club in high school. Ask a millennial from the same neighborhood, and they likely won’t comprehend the reference to the agriculturally-based youth organization. Many still associate these two towns as farming communities, though the farms are disappearing and the local Grange Hall fights desperately to find members. These memories are strong within us, because it is what we perceive to be the character of the neighborhood we grew to love.
However, most of us did not work on farms. We’ve attached ourselves to a romantic idea that allows us to live in the country while maintaining a five-minute commute to the city. When that idea is threatened, or fades before our eyes, complaints start to rush in. Those complaints, of late, have been to push our government officials to prevent over-development and preserve open space.
So, how do we do that?
We live in a country where we all cherish our rights as property owners. Infringe upon them, and there’s hell to pay. The undeveloped land we all see is owned by someone. That someone, or something, has a right to build or sell the land for profit — just like any of us homeowners.
You can’t ask a retiring farmer to just walk away from his land, when he has no one else to tend to it. Farming — outside the multi-million dollar factory farms — is a thankless and difficult job that demands a lot and pays little once taxes and costs take their cut. Farms are no longer a family heirloom. The land, once subdivided and bulldozed over, is what’s passed on to the next generation of a farming family.
The state Assembly introduced a bill that would allow communities like Bethlehem to levy a property transfer tax of up to 2 percent. That money would then go to a preservation fund that could be used by the town to buy land and preserve open space. Assuming such a tax was enforced on a property owner who just profited $200,000 on the sale of his home, that would be $4,000 paid to the town. Judging by some of the prices fixed on houses for sale, the town could receive three times as much based on a larger profit. Seems like a lot, and surprisingly, some of the people complaining about over-development are crying foul over the potential of a tax that would deter people from buying and selling homes.
It seemed that our elected officials were responding in kind to the demand for preserving our open spaces. Some people don’t see it as the right idea. We suppose that if you get two people into a room, complaining will ensue. That is human nature. But, you can’t pay your bills with words, and you can’t stop a bulldozer with complaints.
Michael Hallisey is managing editor of Spotlight Newspapers.