Bethlehem Town Hall. Spotlight file photo
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BETHLEHEM — Robert Leslie, director of Bethlehem’s Planning Board, presented on Wednesday, Sept. 26 to the Town Board a tentative list of potential hamlets and venues where public forums could take place to facilitate dialogue between town officials and the hamlets’ citizens.
While the list is subject to change, Leslie, who appeared at that night’s board meeting, said that it hopes to occur between Nov. 2018 and Apr. 2019.
These public forums are one way the town officials can continue the conversation about crafting its new comprehensive plan, which would outline what goals and objectives Bethlehem aims to achieve by perhaps 2050.
The last comprehensive plan was done back in 2005 and it had been updated several times, but since its vision was through 2020, it has become somewhat dated.
The forums aim to collect residents’ input and for the town officials to visit each hamlet to learn what specific challenges and goals each needs addressed in the upcoming comprehensive plan.
Issues expected to be brought up include sustainability, zoning, water and sewer maintenance, developments, land conservancy, pedestrian-walkability improvements, reworking roads to address traffic and promoting local businesses.
“This is a tentative schedule, no dates have been set,” Leslie said. “We’ve looked to identify potential venues for our meetings, looking at the fire district and the schools. Where can we move these meetings around town that folks can feel that they can talk about their own neighborhood in a neighborhood facility.”
Leslie’s list starts with Slingerlands, suggesting Slingerlands Firehouse or its elementary school as possible venues.
Next is Selkirk at Selkirk Firehouse and the Bethlehem Grange Hall.
Then, it’s South Bethlehem at the same hall, followed by Delmar, which could take place at Hamagrael Elementary School, Bethlehem Middle School or Delmar Reformed Church.
Elsmere is the next hamlet, possibly occurring at Elsmere Elementary School or Elsmere Firehouse.
Finally, it’s Glenmont which could take place at Glenmont Elementary School.
He also said that each meeting could happen once or twice a month.
But he also acknowledged that because the holiday season is approaching like with Thanksgiving and Christmas, “there could be some slow down” progress-wise.
Board member Maureen Cunningham asked Leslie what potential obstacles this community forum-planning process could face, to which he said that it could be whether the proposed venues would be available for the to-be-scheduled forums.
He also pointed out that the availability of the town board members and other relevant town officials, like those in the Planning Board, need to be considered. This is because they have their own schedules, meetings and other obligations to attend to.
Cunningham also worried whether some locals would not be able to express their concerns during the forums for whatever reasons and that they would complain later about that.
Leslie said, “With new technology today, if we missed something in our community meetings, we have ways to go back and try to engage each other on issues not brought up.”
While he did not specify examples here, one can assume that it could include online surveys and emailing. He did note how the recent Bethlehem Open Space and Farmland Conservation Opinion Survey, which asks residents about their opinion on land conservancy, has received over 1,300 responses, being one actual example where the town has successfully interacted with people on an issue.
He said that back in 2005, if that situation happened, surveys were either mailed to the public or available at the library, to engage the residents.
Town Supervisor David VanLuven noted that getting the new comprehensive plan done is targeted to take 18 months, which is a realistic timeframe.
“It’s one of those situations where I just want to get it done and I think everyone just wants to get it done,” he said. “But if we’re going to do this process right, if we’re going to have the input, the interactions and the dialogue with the public that we need, it’s going to take time, especially when we’re going to have a give-and-take.”