#BethlehemNY #ComprehensivePlan #BethlehemTownBoard #DiegoCagara #SpotlightNews
BETHLEHEM — Town Supervisor David VanLuven and members of the Town Board began their public discussion about a new comprehensive plan for the town during the Board’s meeting on Wednesday, Sept. 12.
Bethlehem’s current comprehensive plan, completed in 2005, was developed to guide the town’s evolution up to 2020 by addressing both short- and long-term goals, in addition to describing its physical appearance.
Since 2020 is now less than 18 months away, there has been a renewed fervor to begin looking into developing an updated comprehensive plan that would provide a vision for what the town should look like in 2030, 2040, perhaps as far out as 2050.
Issues that town officials expect to address in this document include zoning, traffic, the town’s financial state, its aesthetic appearance, development, land conservation and overall maintenance.
“The process is truly just starting tonight because I’m looking to the Town Board to work with town staff and me on this vital effort,” said Town Supervisor David VanLuven. “Aside from a few conversations that I’ve had with Maureen Cunningham on this, who’s reached out to me on this issue, this really is just the beginning.”
He divided the discussion into focusing on two main issues: first, what the town hopes to achieve in the near future and, two, what that process would be like. Furthermore, VanLuven wants three broader questions to be addressed:
Why does the town need a new comprehensive plan? (which was already answered above)
What outcomes are desired from it?
And what are the key elements of the process?
Town Board Member Maureen Cunningham said, “It’s been 13 years since the 2005 comprehensive plan and in 2005, we weren’t talking about things like climate resiliency. … Other issues I think we need to examine again that we did not look closely ]at] in 2005 are sustainability and energy efficiency, demographics and school enrollment, the housing market … and historic preservation.”
She suggested looking into each of Bethlehem’s hamlets and “maybe do a mini-comp[rehensive] plan for each of those hamlets to take a closer look or deeper dive into like the Slingerlands Historic District, the Delmar area, different hamlets around town, and incorporate that into the comp plan.”
Fellow Town Board Member Jim Foster also supported her belief in that the comprehensive plan would not just focus on Delmar and the Four Corners, but the surrounding hamlets too.
Additionally, he noted that over-development has been a recurring concern among residents and how the town needs to update its zoning. That way, it would help inform how Bethlehem should physically look like in the near future.
“And I think it’s a more prudent approach that it’s better to have a guiding document [about zoning and development growth] that spells those guidelines out,” he said. “Rather than try to shoot off the hip with each project as they come before us, and just decide on the fly how we want to deal with those issues going forward.”
Both Foster and VanLuven noted that this discussion also would help address misunderstandings or assumptions on the public’s part.
An example is how people assume it’s the town that “needs to stop developing properties” but in reality, it’s the developers and private landowners who have the right to indeed develop properties.
With regards to the larger development issue around town, VanLuven once again asserted that the town “does not have the authority or power to” stop development growth, but rather it can “guide growth, that can reflect the character of our town.”
In terms of the process, VanLuven again wanted to have community forums in all the different hamlets where town government officials can meet residents in person, learn about their respective neighborhoods, ask what they’d like to see Bethlehem be like in the near future, and capture ideas.
To combat the aforementioned assumption that the comprehensive plan would only address Delmar’s needs, Cunningham similarly said that the forums hopefully will not just take place in Delmar, but will occur across all the hamlets. “We don’t expect everyone to come to Delmar when we ask for input,” she said.
“We need to really work on our outreach,” said Foster, who expressed dislike whenever public input only comes from a small group of people, while most others were not able to voice their concerns. “Finding a way to better engage our community, I think, would be very beneficial.”
Cunningham believed that the 2005 comprehensive plan was actually well-written — particularly its vision for Bethlehem through 2020, how it incorporated a lot of public input then, and how some of its action items like the Conservation Easement Program were “innovative and forward-thinking” — despite its age, whereas whether it did work is another question.
She hoped that with this upcoming plan, it would continue being proactive and respectful of public input too.
In the meantime, VanLuven encouraged the public to contact either him or Robert Leslie, the town’s Director of Planning, via email if they have any ideas regarding the comprehensive plan and the town’s future.
He also tasked Leslie to return to the next Town Board meeting with two items: first, a tentative schedule and location of public forums that ideally would happen within the next six or seven months, and second, a summary of the 2005 plan’s vision statement, goals and current status of its recommended actions — to understand what has been achieved and what still needs to be worked on.
Discussion about the comprehensive plan will continue at the next Town Board Meeting, which will be held in the auditorium in Town Hall on Wednesday, Sept. 26, at 6 p.m.