Corn fields are among the sights people can enjoy while driving along Wemple Road. Michael Hallisey / Spotlight News
BETHLEHEM — For Bethlehem residents, Wemple Road helps to connect different parts of town, like Delmar to the west and Glenmont to the east. However, driving down this road in recent years has become a visibly slowly-changing experience.
Wemple Road Apartments and subdivision
The Wemple Road Apartments and subdivision projects were approved by the Bethlehem Planning Board back on March 19 in a 3-2 vote — Chairman John Smolinksy and Board Members Scott Lewendon and Kate Powers supported it; fellow Board Members Brian Gyory and Gianna Aiezza opposed it.
The board initially had rejected it prior on February 5 but this vote was rescinded in the March 19 meeting in hopes of reopening further discussion on the project. A previous Spotlight News article on Wednesday, May 29 incorrectly stated this project had remained rejected. So far, it had appeared before the board for around a dozen meetings, dating back to Aug. 16, 2016.
According to town documents, the overall project is a 96-unit multifamily development, comprising of nine four-unit buildings and 10 six-unit buildings that are styled in a townhouse setting. This would take up over 28 acres, as part of a bigger 37-acre parcel of land, and take up one lot of the subdivision. Roughly seven more acres are for the subdivision’s second lot to be kept by its landowner John Biscone, and the last 1.8 acres are to be conveyed to the town for highway purposes.
The apartments are rental and cater to those seeking to rent in higher-end, condo-like housing.
Prior to construction, the area — located north of Wemple Road near the intersection of that road and Route 9W — is a large wide-open
corn and agricultural field.
After listening to the board members’ comments, Ingalls Associates — the Schenectady-based firm which had conducted the project’s land surveying, engineering designs and commentary-influenced adjustments — agreed to install an eight-foot-wide multi-use path to complement pedestrian/bicycle travel for the lot; modify the apartment buildings’ elevations to de-emphasize the appearance of garage doors on its façades; and ensure it would be sufficiently served with sewer and water lines.
As it is located in a Rural Hamlet zoning district, the area allows for multifamily development too, despite concerns from board members and the public about its density.
An inland eight-acre parcel of open land has recently been confirmed to remain conserved in perpetuity, due to a partnership between the Town of Bethlehem and the Albany County Land Bank. It is located 40 feet south of Wemple Road, and near its intersection with Route 9W, placing it just south of the aforementioned 96-unit multifamily development.
The landlocked eight-acre parcel consists of 3.5 acres of constructed wetlands, 0.75 acres of natural wetlands, and 3.75 acres of upland forest and scrub.
The town bought the land from Albany County Land Bank for $1 although there were recording and closing costs of $762 as well. Albany County Land Bank had first accepted the town’s application to buy it back on Nov. 27, 2018 and Town Supervisor David VanLuven signed the purchase contract and other relevant documents on Feb. 13 this year. VanLuven said the parcel has foreclosed previously as it was not generating tax revenue for the town. He added that even with its new status as a conserved open space, no resident’s taxes would be increased.
Bethlehem’s Open Space Coordinator Karen Shaw confirmed that the parcel will be left to “maintain its natural services” like continuing to foster a natural habitat, and providing flooding and water quality control. She said that there is a possibility of making the landlocked parcel more readily accessible to the public and adding passive recreational trails — which could be created together with the town’s Parks and Recreation department — within the parcel in the future.
No timeframe has been set about this though.
Elsmere Fire District substation
At the corner of Wemple and Feura Bush roads, one would notice a brand-new building by the intersection, the site of which had been under construction since last fall. This is the Elsmere Fire District’s new South Substation.
The 4,608 square-foot substation was constructed to improve response times to emergencies in the southern half of the fire district, as well as better serve the residents there. Behind the $1.4 million project was C.T. Male Associates, the general architect which is a Latham-hailing company that specializes in land surveying, architectural engineering, and more.
According to the fire district’s website, the project originally went through the town’s Zoning Board of Appeals prior on Dec. 6, 2017 and voters residing within the fire district passed it six days later on Dec. 12 — 272 supported and 180 opposed it.
Then on Dec. 20, a public hearing was held and it was decided that the project needed to be reviewed by the town’s Planning Board. The project was later brought before that board on Feb. 20, 2018 and following a number of meetings and discussions, its site plan was finally approved on July 3.
Construction began on Sept. 20 afterwards, stopped for the winter season, and resumed in spring for further outside work. A timeline of photographs depicting the construction’s progress is available online on the Elsmere Fire District’s website at elsmerefire.org/fire-district/south-station.
Remembering Sandy Creek Barn
Longtime residents would remember the Sandy Creek Farm and its former 80-year-old barn that used to be located along Wemple Road.
The barn was a two-story structure that used to contain a dairy farm owned by Thomas and Valerie Newell. According to town records, the farm had been owned by the Newell family since John M. Mabel and Ernest A. Newell bought the 165-acre lot back in 1938. The barn had been built around this time period too.
The barn, unfortunately, could not survive well into the 21st century as on Apr. 27, 2016, it gave way to a proposal to construct a 40-lot residential subdivision on where it was located. Such plans to build on that area had been brought before the town government since around 2012.
Spotlight News had reported on this in April 2016, where numerous residents criticized how rising developments have taken over the agricultural regions and damaged the local natural habitat too.