DELMAR — Town Supervisor David VanLuven touted a “green future” for Bethlehem in his State of the Town address on Wednesday, Jan. 26, his first since winning a third term in office after last November’s election.
The address followed on the coattails of a Port of Albany press conference attended by Gov. Kathy Hochul, Congressman Paul Tonko and U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm as they each ushered in the promise of the country’s first offshore wind tower manufacturing facility.
The burgeoning $350 million manufacturing complex involving Equinor, British Petroleum and Marmen Welcon includes an expansion of the 400-acre port that will encompass a proposed 560,000 square feet of new construction in the southernmost part of the Capital City and in Bethlehem. This, along with a new 350,000-square-foot power plant manufacturing facility Plug Power, Inc. has pitched for the Vista Technology Park in Slingerlands, promises up to 2,000 jobs in the Capital District.
“This astonishing growth of [the] green energy industry in Bethlehem is a reflection of our business-friendly climate, our commitment to economic growth, and our commitment to tackling the challenges of climate change,” VanLuven said. “The future is green, and the green energy future is right here in Bethlehem.”
Growth, and how the Town will manage it, may have been the overall theme to VanLuven’s message for 2022. In the coming months, the Town anticipates sharing details of its two-year effort to amend its 2005 Comprehensive Plan. The revised plan is expected to highlight room for economic growth, preservation of farms and green spaces, sustainability and accessibility.
There is already a concerted effort to steer the Town away from fossil fuel consumption and towards electricity. Evidence of which is observed by the 10 EV charging stations outside Town Hall on Delaware Avenue. The volunteer group discussing the new comp plan update is expected to push for increased energy efficiency and electric chargers in new construction, and limiting the addition of gas pumps throughout town.
Not all were happy with the upcoming plan update, as Bethlehem Republican Party Chair James McGaughan used the public comment section of the following Town Board meeting to rebut the supervisor’s address.
McGaughan, the GOP’s third chairperson in as many years, said he represented “thousands of people” who stood against the Bethlehem Forward comprehensive plan group and more. He accused Town Board members of acting against residents and local business owners, citing the failed Delaware Avenue road diet and opposition to the proposed Selkirk Reserve affordable housing project “that no one in Selkirk wants.”
“We are your stakeholders, listen to us,” he said.
The Town has all but finished acting upon an item first addressed in the 2005 plan, that of traffic along the Route 9W corridor in Glenmont and introducing a traffic circle at where it intersects with Feura Bush and Glenmont Roads. The $4.9 million Glenmont Roundabout and Sidewalk Project was carved out and opened to motor vehicle traffic last fall. VanLuven said additional sidewalks will complete the project this spring, connecting residential neighborhoods to Glenmont Elementary with more than a mile of pedestrian walkway.
VanLuven dovetailed his point of making Town services more accessible with its efforts to continue implementing suggestions introduced in last year’s Police Reform & Reinvention Collaborative Plan. That includes robust training in mental health services and de-escalation techniques, and partnering with the Albany County Sheriff’s Department’s ACCORD program to provide enhanced mental health services to community members in need.
VanLuven also shared plans to introduce a formal community Town Board Liaison and to explore options for equipping officers with body cameras. Both were suggested by the community-led reform initiative. The town supervisor has lauded community members in the past for enduring conversations with town and police officials.
“The last two years have been challenging for our community. The pandemic has made it hard to connect, has frayed nerves and stretched patience… Bethlehem is a strong community and we are resilient,” VanLuven said. “We can cope with the hard times and we will build for a brighter future. Despite the challenges, there were many bright spots in 2021, and as I look forward to 2022, I see hope, opportunity, and action ahead.”