Community Spotlight: The Town of Bethlehem

Examples of great planning and development work can be seen throughout the Capital Region. As part of CDRPC’s new Community Spotlight series, we will be looking at model communities throughout the region and highlight some of the planning work and initiatives they are undertaking. This month, we will be highlighting the Town of Bethlehem.

The Town of Bethlehem, in preparation for a Comprehensive Plan update, worked with CDRPC’s Technical Assistance Program to create a Growth Analysis for the town between 1991 and 2018. The report analyzed the amount of residential development within the Town of Bethlehem between 1991-2004 and 2005-2018, as well as providing an overview of existing conditions within the town for a variety of topics including socio-economic, transportation, and health. This report will allow the Town of Bethlehem to understand how their town has changed in the past 25+ years and inform what policy and planning changes may need to be made to accommodate a changing population and a changing region overall. An update to the Comprehensive Plan serves as the opportunity to engage the community, establish a vision for the Town, and incorporate new recommendations, projects, and policies based on a changing population.

In an effort to balance development and preservation of natural resources, the Town of Bethlehem is also providing opportunities for landowners to preserve their land in the town. The town has provided three different land conservation tools and funding options; Parkland Set Aside Fund, Term Conservation Easement Program, and Farms & Forests Fund. Each option provides landowners with unique strategies to voluntarily conserver their land as an alternative to development. The details of each option are as follows;

Parkland Set Aside Fund
• Revenue from a fee on new residential developments (new people = new parkland/recreation needs)
• Only for parks, park equipment, or parks planning
• Land owned by Town
• Land open to public use

Term Conservation Easement Program
• Landowner forgoes development for a period they choose (15 years – perpetuity)
• Landowner receives property tax break. The longer the easement period, the greater the savings (50% – 90% reduction)
• Land remains in private ownership

Farm & Forests Fund
• Annual revenue from a percentage of Town budget surplus allocated to Fund
• Applied to purchase of land or agricultural easements (purchase of development rights)
• Land remains in private ownership
• Land can be managed for farms and timber, but cannot be developed

Further implementation of the Town’s complete streets and smart growth initiatives are also underway, including a street tree inventory/community forest management plan, and Delaware Avenue Complete Streets project. The Town was awarded a $35,000 Urban and Community Forestry Grant by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. The street tree inventory and community forestry management plan will provide the town with a foundation for addressing street tree loss and growing a healthy and strong street tree canopy along roadways. Guidance will be provided for various Town departments regarding street trees, relevant town operations, and future development and provide information the Street Tree Planting Program can utilize when identifying locations for new street trees.

The Town was also awarded funding through the NYSDOT Transportation Alternatives Program to redesign Delaware Avenue between Elsmere Avenue and City of Albany with complete streets improvements. The project will convert the roadway to one-lane in each direction, along with a two-center turn lane, wide shoulders with room for bus stops and bicyclists, improved sidewalks, additional crosswalks, and gateway treatments entering the Town to help calm traffic. The project represents the “road diet” concept, which is consistent with state and local complete streets initiatives and is an FHWA proven safety countermeasure for all modes of travel.