To The Editor:
The Town of Bethlehem is currently updating its 15-year-old comprehensive plan. This process offers a relatively infrequent opportunity for residents to collaborate with town officials on a vision for our town, to share what we cherish and what concerns us, to envision what we want for the future, and to identify strategies and actions to implement it.
At stake right now is that the Town Board is planning to vote on whether new housing development proposals should be “paused” for one year until the Plan is completed. I support a restrictive temporary moratorium during the planning process because a lot of acreage and population growth is at stake.
Over the past 15 years, new housing developments have been built at a rapid pace. When a moratorium on residential development was first discussed by the Comprehensive Plan Update Committee in September, there were 722 new housing units proposed that had not yet received a negative environmental declaration or a final plat approval. Since September, in less than one month, 27 of those units have been approved for development. If the Town Board doesn’t enact a restrictive moratorium soon, a substantial amount of development will proceed without adherence to the updated comprehensive plan. And we will have to live the effects.
While it is clear that the Town must be cognizant of developers’ rights, it is also imperative that the Town protect current residents from the irreversible consequences of new developments, including traffic congestion, pressure on community resources, and rising taxes.
Population growth always results in higher taxes for all. In contrast, studies have concluded that the best way to restrain rising local taxes is by conserving open space. Moreover, there is an inherent public interest in open space because undeveloped lands conserve the very environmental attributes that make our Town a healthy and pleasant place to live, like fresh air, clean water, biodiversity, storm water control, and ultimately, scenic quality.
The comprehensive plan is the community’s most significant opportunity to weigh in with our concerns and vision for the Town that we love and live in. A developer is here to make money, not to live here. Surely, the quality of life for residents should be the first and foremost concern of the Town Board. Enacting a restrictive moratorium will give residents a chance to influence the course of our Town’s growth and character.