Last year was full of bumps in the road, if you traveled along Delaware Avenue, Bethlehem’s Main Street, as it went through its much anticipated enhancement. It was also the time to elect a new town supervisor, in the midst of a political season far more unusual than the town is accustom to seeing.
In this edition, we look back at the Top Five stories with the most significant impact to our readers.
#1 Residential Development
BETHLEHEM — The conversation concerning the growth of residential development has been ongoing throughout 2017.
Bethlehem’s Town Board has discussed several options, including the proposal of a real estate tax that would fund the town’s ability to purchase land in the effort to preserve open space. It all came to a head during a November meeting when residents spoke before the Town Board against a proposal that would bring 48 new condominiums next to Glenmont Plaza on Feura Bush Road.
In order for Amedore Homes to build the development at that location, the Town Board must approve its application to rezone the site as a Planned Development District (PDD), which would allow for the density of dwelling units proposed. Under current zoning, only single-family detached homes are allowed.
Residents have repeatedly spoken out in opposition to the project since it was initially presented to the Town Board in March. Concerns have been raised about the pace of development in town, traffic impacts, loss of open space and wildlife habitat, additional demands on infrastructure and impacts on the school district. A group called the friends and residents of Glen Manor presented the Planning Board with a list of concerns and a petition opposing the project.
Former Town Supervisor Sam Messina, who lives a few blocks away, said he drives that corridor most days. He was the lone individual to speak in favor of the project. “I understand fear about change,” he said. “I’ve never seen a project that was approved under the auspices of this comprehensive plan that didn’t turn out to be a good project, that resulted in any of the negative impacts that people are concerned about, and that, after some settlement time, wasn’t a welcomed attribute by the people in that community.”
No decisions were made by the Town Board during the Nov. 8 meeting. Members will consider the application in light of the community’s feedback and vote on it at a future date.
Board member and newly elected Town Supervisor David VanLuven, who opposed the project when it was introduced in March and again at the October meeting, said he feels that tripling the density would be “excessive.”
“Sometimes increasing density can be good,” VanLuven said. “But the changes need to be within reason and have clear benefits for the community in addition to the developer.”
DELMAR — Three years after a townwide property reassessment, the Bethlehem Town Board listened to Assessor Laurie Lambertsen explain the need to update property records.
A recollection process would inventory such information as square footage and number of rooms for each residential home. It’s information, Lambertsen said during the March meeting, had not been updated since 1992.
When Town Supervisor John Clarkson asked if the process would require assessors entering homes, Lambertsen initally said yes. When residents protested, Lambertsen later clarified that assessors would only enter homes if welcomed in.
The recollection process, which is anticipated to take four years, started last December.
#3 Election 2017
BETHLEHEM — Though the political season starts early in the year, the usual drama associated with it started in earnest after Town Supervisor John Clarkson announced in April that he would not seek re-election.
Three months later, town Democrats would find themselves in a bind when a clerical error would ultimately lead to a few of the party’s intended candidates off the party line in November.
Democrats Dan Morin and George Harder, both running for town positions without the endorsement of the Bethlehem Democratic Committee, successfully sued to have Dan Coffey and Giles Wagoner thrown off the ballot because committee leaders improperly filed paperwork.
When Election Day Tuesday ended Jim Foster defeated two Democratic rivals for a seat on the town board, becoming the first Republican to win any seat in town government since 2009.
According to unofficial totals, Foster garnered a little more than 25 percent of votes — 5,127 total — earning him a seat on the board alongside Maureen Cunningham, who took the other seat with 6,465 votes — a little less than 32 percent. George Harder came in just behind Foster with 4,815 votes, almost 24 percent, and Dan Coffey, who joined the race late, pulled 3,918 votes, or more than 19 percent.
In the race for Highway Superintendent, John “Tiger” Anastasi, who also ran on the Republican ticket, defeated Democratic opponents Giles Wagoner and Dan Morin with 4,961 votes, nearly 43 percent. Wagoner and Morin each earned a little more than 28 percent of the vote, with 3,269 and 3,337 respectively.
Democrats took the remaining town seats: David VanLuven beat Gary Fish in the race for Town Supervisor, with 63 percent of the vote; Andy Kirby defeated Colin Dwyer for Town Justice, also with 63 percent of votes; and Nanci Moquin, running unopposed, retained her position as Town Clerk.
#4 Delaware Ave.
DELMAR — Town officials cut the ceremonial ribbon on the Delaware Avenue Hamlet Streetscape Enhancement project on December 15.
The full streetscape project involved the implementation of multi-modal and streetscape enhancements along Delaware Avenue, from Elsmere Avenue to Adams Street, as well as portions of Kenwood Avenue and Adams Street. These enhancements consisted of new sidewalks, crosswalks, curbing, on-street parking, street trees and decorative lighting fixtures. The total project cost $3.1 million, with $1.9 million provided by the town and the other $1.2 million through a grant from the New York State Department of Transportation.
However, the town’s Main Street is targeted for another overhaul after the board
voted to proceed with a proposed road diet along the eastern section of the highway, which section impacts Elsmere Elementary, Delaware Plaza and scores of local businesses.
Democrat Maureen Cunningham spoke in favor of the road diet, as well as the open space plan. Of Delaware Avenue, she said, “I do think it’s the infrastructure of the past and I think we need to be forward-thinking. We, as a town board, need to ensure that the businesses continue to thrive in this town and so I’m in support of the road diet, on the condition that we continue to put economic revitalization as one of our priorities, along with safety.”
Incoming Republican Jim Foster, however, had concerns. He said DOT studies around the country have shown that road diets are not necessarily advisable on roads that carry more than 15,000 cars a day. “There are about 18,300 road trips on Delaware Avenue,” he said. “What that tells me is that the primary use of Delaware Avenue, as much as we might want it to be this quaint little main street through Bethlehem that links the east and the west, it’s primarily a corridor through which vehicles and commuters travel.”
#5 Clarksville Elementary
CLARKSVILLE — The former elementary school continues to be a sore subject with local residents after it was closed more than five years ago.
Since then, the Albany County Sheriff’s Office has leased it from the district and has expressed interest in purchasing it. The Bethlehem Central Board of Education will consider a purchase agreement with the Albany County Sheriff’s Office during today’s (Wednesday, Jan. 3) meeting.
The purchase would replace a three-year lease-to-purchase payment plan with a one-time lump sum payment by the county for the property. The total purchase price would remain unchanged at $325,000, consisting of $198,000 cash, and in-kind services of $127,000.
All other terms of the agreement — approved by the Board in June 2017 following three public meetings on the matter — would remain the same.
Should the Board of Education vote to approve the county’s request, the Albany County Sheriff’s Office would take ownership of the property immediately upon closing, rather than in 2020 which had been proposed as part of the lease-purchase agreement.
“I believe that selling the Clarksville Elementary School is short-sighted,” wrote Judy Abbott, of Clarksville to The Spotlight. “I would prefer the District extend the Sheriff’s lease and sell/give the Sheriff two of the 12.4 acres upon which the school sits for him to build his facility.”