GLENMONT — The Town of Bethlehem has taken one step closer to conserving open space, with the perpetual protection of an eight-acre parcel of open land near the intersection of Wemple Road and Route 9W, due to the town working together with the Albany County Land Bank (ACLB).
On Thursday, May 23, a small crowd gathered at the foot of the conserved parcel under direct sunlight just off 102 Brookhaven Lane. Among those who appeared included Bethlehem Town Supervisor David VanLuven, Town Board members Dan Coffey and Jim Foster, Bethlehem Open Space Coordinator Karen Shaw, Albany County Executive Daniel P. McCoy, Mohawk Hudson Land Conservancy executive director Mark King, and ACLB executive director Adam Zaranko.
The parcel comprises of 3.5 acres of constructed wetlands, 0.75 acres of natural wetlands, and 3.75 acres of upland forest and scrub. While it is landlocked, it is accessible by a 40-foot wide easement from Wemple Road.
The town had acquired the land from ACLB, purchasing it for just $1 — there were recording and closing costs of $762 too. The town’s application to purchase it was accepted by ACLB on Nov. 27, 2018 and this process moved further on Feb. 13, 2019 where VanLuven signed the purchase contract and other relevant documents. VanLuven said that the parcel had been foreclosed previously as it was not generating tax revenue for the town and upon its new status as a conserved open space, it would not raise any resident’s taxes.
“It’s always about partnerships and working together, and … we have always talked about green and open space, and we’ve been doing that throughout the county and taking more spaces like this and making it green,” said McCoy. “We want to make sure that five, 10 or 50 years down the road, there’s a lot of green space around, not just for our children but for the people who make their homes and businesses here.” He added that Albany County created ACLB in 2014 to make this type of movement possible.
Zaranko explained that ACLB is a not-for-profit organization that takes tax-foreclosed vacant or abandoned areas and decide what to do with them to make them more beneficial or attractive to surrounding residents and neighborhoods.
In the case of Bethlehem, he said that the town benefits from pushing for conserving open space which can help balance against rising development. Speaking of development, the parcel is just across the street, albeit located more inland, on Wemple Road from the site where a 96-unit multifamily residential development had been proposed — this was initially rejected by the town’s Planning Board this past February but was later approved on March 19 (the vote was 3-2). Nevertheless, Zaranko viewed the areas around the Wemple Road and Route 9W intersection as “bucolic” and conserving this parcel helps to sustain that atmosphere.
VanLuven said that farms, forests and fields “are vital parts of Bethlehem” which give people space to breathe, embrace nature and reduce unwanted vehicular traffic. Expressing gratitude for ACLB for working with the town on this, he also said that Bethlehem is one of only two towns in the state to have an official open space coordinator, a position filled by Shaw.
Regarding the parcel, Shaw said that for now, “we’re going to let these wetlands be wetlands, and let wildlife be wildlife.” She explained that the parcel would ideally continue to “maintain its natural services” in terms of providing flooding and water quality control, and a wildlife habitat.
Looking ahead, she added that the town may find a way to make the parcel more openly accessible to the public and some passive recreation trails may be set up in conjunction with the town’s Parks and Recreation department.
For more information on land conservation, visit www.townofbethlehem.org/783/Open-Space-Planning.
Editor’s note: Both the print and original online version of this article incorrectly stated that the 96-unit multifamily development on Wemple Road remained rejected by the Bethlehem Planning Board this past February. That project was actually approved later on March 19 after the original vote was rescinded. Spotlight News will write an article touching on this in a future article.