Bethlehem Town Hall. Spotlight file photo
BETHLEHEM — The Town Board has tabled an application that would have purchased pictometry services for the town’s Residential Data Improvement Project.
Besides Town Board member Maureen Cunningham’s absence at the Aug. 14 meeting, the board unanimously voted to table it as they wanted a thorough presentation about the application first that can also address spreading misinformation in town. While Town Supervisor David VanLuven said it is not yet known when such a presentation is being scheduled, Town Board member Dan Coffey said he understood residents’ concerns about privacy and that there would be an announcement to the public in advance whenever a presentation is ready.
The application was submitted by the town’s assessor, Laurie Lambertsen who requested the Town Board approve the use of pictometry service from EagleView Technologies, a Seattle-based technology company that offers aerial imagery to accurately and efficiently assess inventory and property measurements in municipalities. EagleView also has operations in Rochester, New York and this application is meant to update and improve Bethlehem’s database of residential properties.
“We need to have accurate information on what structures you have on your property, how big your house is, and things like that,” said VanLuven in a follow-up interview. “It’s not a reassessment because a reassessment looks at the value of items. This is to update our inventory so we have accurate information about what’s on every property.” On the town’s website, it also stresses the difference between the terms “reassessment” and “data improvement,” and confirming that this project is about the latter. For more information, visit www.townofbethlehem.org/812/Residential-Data-Improvement-Project.
The Residential Data Improvement Project originally began in late 2017 and the town contracted Buffalo-based GAR Associates to begin updating the aforementioned database — it is not known when exactly was the last time the database was updated prior although the town’s website indicated it has not been done in decades. With this application, EagleView’s use of pictometry would give accurate information about residential properties to GAR Associates for it to continue the overall project.
“We first contracted GAR Associates to do this Residential Data Improvement Project in 2017 and all they’re doing is taking outside measurements of a house. If you’re at home, they can ask you how many bedrooms you have, if you have a pool in the backyard and its measurements, or if you have a shed, things like that,” VanLuven said. “Our database is just incomplete and we’re filling it out. They take the pictures of the front of your house and that’s standard.”
For more information about GAR Associates’ process, visit www.townofbethlehem.org/835/Residential-Data-Improvement-Process.
Spotlight News also reached out to GAR Associates and EagleView but they declined to comment since the application is still tabled.
“Because of how badly the 2014 reassessment went, our town is very sensitive about having information about their properties go up,” VanLuven continued. “So, the company that’s gathering all this data, which they’ve done data residential improvement projects for municipalities across the state, said they’ve never seen a community as uncooperative as Bethlehem. If you don’t want someone to come on your property and take measurements for whatever reasons like privacy and it’s your private property, you can opt out of it but we still need to get the data on your house. And how we do that is using aerial photography.”
Regarding aerial photography, EagleView was proposed to use their own small private airplanes — not drones — to do a flyover over the town and take pictures in “pretty high resolution,” VanLuven said.
However, he said such photography would not look into people’s windows or have such high resolution that it can capture scenarios where an individual is carrying sensitive information in their hand like their Social Security number or cleaning their gun in their backyard.
“The reality is that the resolution would be in three-inch squares so basically every square is one color so the more you zoom in, the blurrier it gets,” he explained. “If I were to look up, you can’t see my eyes, my mouth and it can’t read my Social Security card if I’m holding it. This doesn’t even come close to the super high resolution of Google Street View.”
The application included how there are two pricing options for this project, should it move forward.
The first option originally cost $29,730 ($9,910 annually over a three-year period) and it was negotiated by Lambertsen in a deal with EagleView to a discount, lowering it to $26,780 ($8,926.67 annually over a three-year period).
It would include “1 flyover and oblique imagery bundle with 3 years of EFS maintenance and support.”
The second option would cost $27,097 ($9,032.33 annually over a three-year period).
It includes “2 flyovers, 1 every 3 years, leaf off, and 6 years of the imagery and support.”
The application noted that EagleView was on state contract which expired on Monday, Aug. 26.
Spotlight News reached out to Lambertsen for clarification but she was unavailable to comment at the time of this publication.
VanLuven said the payment would come from Capital Reserve Funds though and that GAR Associates originally brought the Town Board’s attention to potentially working with EagleView back in November 2018.
“At that time, the board opted not to move forward with it. With another year of uncooperative landowners which forced us to have less and less accurate information, GAR came back to us for the final year of the study,” he said. “If the board wants to consider it further, we can but right now, it’s tabled.”