Bethlehem Town Hall. Spotlight file photo
#BethlehemTownBoard #2019 #DiegoCagara #SpotlightNews
BETHLEHEM — Town Supervisor David VanLuven is well-prepared for 2019, highlighting multiple items the Town Board will need to address during the new year for residents.
Dan Coffey will be sworn in to serve a one-year term during a ceremony at Town Hall on Thursday, Jan. 3, at 5:30 p.m. Coffey succeeds Giles Wagoner, who was appointed to the board last year to take David VanLuven’s seat after he was elected as Town Supervisor.
Although he is not officially a member of the Town Board yet, Coffey has been busy preparing himself for the position, meeting with multiple town officials and attending recent meetings to gain a better understanding of the major issues facing the town and the proposals it is considering.
Coffey recently met with Karen Shaw, Bethlehem’s Open Space Coordinator. During the conversation, he learned that the town’s “Conservation Easement Review Board is taking the lead in coming up with alternatives to funding open space and they will present that to the Town Board this year. I know the real estate transfer tax became an issue last year and a lot of people are against it, and that’s fine, but I hope we don’t cower away from looking for alternatives for funding open space.”
Bethlehem officials are looking into how Colonie, Clifton Park and other nearby towns fund their open space. In particular, Coffey mentioned the Town of Colonie, which is not only in the process of updating its 2005 comprehensive plan, but also looking for ways for developers, rather than the town, to fund open space.
Among the other issues he’d like to address is the possible repurposing of the largely vacant Vista Technology Campus in Slingerlands into more of a commercial center, inviting outlet or retail stores to increase tax revenue in town. Plus, he added that residents wouldn’t have to drive to Crossgates Mall or Colonie Center to shop. Coffey also plans to review the town’s zoning classifications, which he sees as a way to possibly control development.
Finally, he wants to have a conversation about term lengths for town officials. He brought up how some positions, such as Town Supervisor, Town Clerk and Highway Superintendent, only have two year terms, while others, such as Town Board members and the Receiver of Taxes serve for four years. “I’m not sure how that scheme came about but it’s been in place a long time,” he said. “If people are happy with it, we’ll keep it as is.”
Coffey is already preparing for his first Board meeting as a member on Wednesday, Jan. 9, by “trying to digest [Bethlehem’s] $43 million budget … so I can hit the ground running hopefully.
Bethlehem’s 2005 comprehensive plan is in the process of getting a major overhaul, a project town officials expect to complete in 2020. A large part of that process is the series of community forums scheduled to take place across the town’s multiple hamlets through late March 2019. The primary purpose of these forums is to gain insight into the issues residents in each hamlet care about most so that they can ultimately be incorporated into the updated plan, which will ideally set the town’s visions and actions through at least 2035.
While the meetings for Slingerlands and Selkirk have already occurred on Thursday, Nov. 29 and Thursday, Dec. 13 respectively, the remaining ones are scheduled to take place from 6 to 8 p.m. on the following dates:
Thursday, Jan. 10 Bethlehem Grange Hall, 24 Bridge St. (in Selkirk)
Wednesday, Jan. 30
Delmar Reformed Church, 386 Delaware Ave.
Tuesday, Feb. 12
North Bethlehem Firehouse, 589 Russell Road
Thursday, Mar. 7
Glenmont Elementary School, 328 Route 9W
Thursday, Mar. 21
Elsmere Elementary School 247 Delaware Ave.
VanLuven revealed that in addition to those meetings, Bethlehem is similarly looking to schedule “targeted issue forums” in 2019 across hamlets to get residents’ input on certain particular topics, like traffic, open space protection, and improving infrastructure. “One forum could also be on having Bethlehem as an age-friendly community,” he added. “A community where it’s easy to live whether you are a young, single, or old, and everything in between. … We will be hiring a consulting firm to help us take all of this information that we’re gathering and organize it into an initial draft of a comprehensive plan.”
He noted that the upcoming comprehensive plan “should not just be a plan that develops a vision for our future, but a plan that clearly recognizes challenges we have to accomplish that vision. And also, a clear suite of actions that we can take to overcome those challenges to achieve our vision. Actions are key because otherwise it’s just talk, talk, talk.”
The targeted issue forums have yet to be scheduled, as they will be informed by patterns or trends that town officials discover during the comprehensive plan community forums.
Planning for the Glenmont roundabout, located at the intersection of U.S. Route 9W and Feura Bush and Glenmont roads, will take place in 2019 so that construction can begin in 2020.
There will be another community forum where consulting engineers will present potential solutions to things residents had previously brought up about the roundabout, including improving pedestrian safety, and how construction may affect traffic and local businesses there. Bethlehem’s Planning Division Director Robert Leslie confirmed that the meeting is planned for Thursday, Jan. 17, at 6 p.m. at the Glenmont Elementary School, located on 328 Route 9W. During this meeting, consulting engineers will present their possible solutions to residents’ concerns raised during previous meetings, such as pedestrian safety, and the impact construction could have on traffic and local businesses.
“We’re always continuing to reach out to businesses in the Glenmont area to work with them both in the context of making sure the final roundabout-and-sidewalks system will be good for them in the long term, but also working with them to identify ways to minimize the pain of the construction so customers can get through that,” said VanLuven. “Residents should know that they can still get to these businesses during construction and they need to support them.”
VanLuven explains that there are two fronts to this particular issue.
First, town officials believe they need to find ways to slow motorists’ speeds in and around residential areas and crosswalks. Noting that the town cannot physically have a police officer on every street daily, he said the town is considering the development of an outreach campaign instructing people to slow down. “There are probably going to be selected roads where I’d like us to explore physical changes that can be made to the road that would make people slow down,” he added. “Maybe speed bumps or making the roads a little bit narrower so you have a sense of the road not being suitable for driving fast on.”
Second, Bethlehem is looking to develop a “more defined process of deciding where we’re going to do sidewalk work, whether it’s repairs or construction of new sidewalks,” he said. According to him, the town has 58 miles of sidewalks, many of which need work. One major factor to consider are places where pedestrians don’t feel as safe traveling beside vehicular traffic.
Also, the town plans to reach out to Capital Region Transportation Committee to assess town-wide truck traffic, like where trucks drive to and from generally. “We have neighborhoods throughout town saying, ‘We need you to take the trucks off our streets,’ but what that results in is traffic being moved onto someone else’s street,” he said. “We need to think about this in a town-wide level, not at a spot-by-spot level.”
Other items VanLuven said the Town Board will be looking into include:
•Working with Albany
County to address the
D&H railroad bridge
and several other
buildings around the
Slingerlands portion of
the Rail Trail
•Continuing to repair
pools at the Elm
Avenue Park pool
to design projects that
that would improve
the Clapper Road Water
high levels of
building a new dissolved
air floatation facility,
and upgrades to the
current basin pumps at
the plant’s Filter
Building for raw water
“It’s going to be a busy year,” VanLuven concluded. “But we’re going to get a lot done.”