BETHLEHEM — The Town Board unanimously voted to approve a resolution to create the Farms and Forests Fund on Wednesday, Sept. 25 in a move that has been expected since the town’s 2005 comprehensive plan’s creation.
The new fund allows the town to purchase local agricultural easements and their development value from any interested landowners; purchased land would still be privately owned and can continue to be farmed but it would stop the property from being redeveloped. The fund is one way the town is taking an active step towards addressing issues like overdevelopment and land preservation.
“In my view, active farms and working forests are important parts of Bethlehem,” said Town Supervisor David VanLuven. “As we look into development patterns in town, we’re too often seeing these landscapes convert into developments. If that is the direction landowners want to take, it’s their right and I respect that. But I believe we need to give landowners other options.”
Prior to the Farms and Forests Fund’s creation, the town already has two land protection options for interested landowners — the Term Conservation Easement Program and the Parkland Set Aside Fund. However, the Farms and Forests Fund gives the town a chance to partner with local non-profit land conservation organizations like Mohawk Hudson Land Conservancy and Scenic Hudson.
To read more about the fund’s purpose and methodology, visit www.spotlightnews.com/news/2019/09/25/addressing-bethlehems-growing-development-with-a-new-option/.
Town Board member Dan Coffey said the town’s original 2005 comprehensive plan envisioned a type of “open space fund” and he said, “It’s a long time coming. … I think it’s consistent with the comprehensive plan and our town’s goals of giving the town other tools in its arsenal, if you will, to go up against developers and try to preserve our spaces.”
When Town Board member Maureen Cunningham asked if a formal application format has been finalized for any interested landowner, Robert Leslie, the town’s Planning Division director, said a draft application is in the works. Cunningham later added, “In the resolution, it also says the town will not solicit or conduct fundraising activities for this fund. However, separate entities such as a land trust or citizens group may solicit gifts and conduct fundraising activities, the proceeds of which may be donated to this fund.”
Fellow Town Board member Jim Foster said he wanted the public to know that this Farms and Forests Fund will not be forced on any landowner, but rather it is available for anyone who is interested. He also noted that should any money be taken out of the Farms and Forests Fund for any other purpose, it would subject the Town Board to permissive referendum.
As the Town Board moved to unanimously vote for the resolution, Town Hall filled with applause from attending residents, many of whom were also in support of the fund. VanLuven held a thumbs up with a smile, “We’ve been working on that for a long time.”