BETHLEHEM — Concerned residents addressed the town’s Planning Board on Tuesday, Sept. 5, before its members were scheduled to discuss four major planning projects that would add a total of almost 198 new residences on Feura Bush Road, Delaware Avenue, Rockefeller Road, and Kenwood Avenue.
Of the approximately 20 people who addressed the board for the first hour and a half of the bi-monthly meeting, the vast majority were opposed to the level of development happening in Bethlehem. Some residents lamented the loss of green spaces, some questioned the necessity of adding more multi-family and condominium properties, others worried about traffic patterns and school enrollment, and some simply worried that the character of the town is changing too dramatically.
A couple of the speakers who opposed the level of development generally, spoke in support of the project on Rockefeller Road, a proposed 74-unit multi-family development between 137 Kenwood Ave. and 141 Rockefeller Road, saying that they felt it was the best possible option in an area where development is inevitable. Former Town and Planning Board member Doris Davis disagreed, however, saying the project is “totally out of character” and would “change the nature of the neighborhood.”
Several residents asked when enough development was enough and spoke of the cumulative impacts created by all the individual
projects. “All of these little concerns impact all the people behind me,” said Glenmont resident Greg Allen. “Why do we keep developing if no one wants it?”
Developers, on the other hand, maintained that the proposed housing would attract young professionals, who were then more likely to stay and purchase a home in the area, as well as retain elderly residents who may be unable to maintain a larger single-family home but would like to remain in town.
All of the residential projects were ultimately tabled for further discussion.
Robert Leslie, director of the Department of Planning and Economic Development, noted that it has requested a cumulative large-scale traffic study, paid for by the developers, to assess the impact of all the developments proposed for the Route 9W corridor.
At the direction of the Planning Department, developers for the Rockefeller proposal and a neighboring project along Kenwood Avenue are to generate a traffic analysis for where the road intersects with Elsmere Avenue, Rockefeller Road and the Route 32 by-pass.
Yet another traffic analysis is requested for where Elsmere Avenue and Poplar Drive intersect. The analysis will establish traffic volumes on Poplar Drive and the number of trips generated by the Good Samaritan Nursing Home at 119 Rockefeller. The studies are intended to achieve a better understanding of potential impacts of the new developments on surrounding neighborhoods.
The second of the two proposals plans for a 62-home development on 70 acres of the old Kleinke farm at 65 Kenwood Ave.
Rockefeller Road proposal, and a 48-condominium project on 430 Feura Bush Road, are applying to the town to rezone the properties as Planned Development Districts (PDDs) to allow the building of multi-family housing. While that decision lies with the Town Board, the Planning Board hears the initial proposal and then forwards it to the Town Board with its recommendation. Planning Board member Kate Powers, who seemed wary of the combined scope of the projects, said that she would like to see more evidence of how the zoning changes would complement the town’s comprehensive plan.
A number of residents also brought up the comprehensive plan, which was developed in 2005, suggesting that it might be time to revisit or clarify its objectives, a point that was also brought up by Town Board candidate Maureen Cunningham earlier this year.
According to Supervisor John Clarkson, however, Bethlehem did a full review of the comprehensive plan in 2013 and has since been implementing its recommendations, such as open space planning and the Local Waterfront Revitalization Program.
“Bethlehem has good zoning tools, but we are always reviewing and updating,” he said. “Good zoning tools don’t remove development pressure, of course, but they do give the town options to deal with it. As Bethlehem’s open space plan is completed, and if there is public support for an active public conservation program, that could help address these concerns.”
A conservation program could be implemented in a number of different ways, according to town officials. A recent effort to obtain permission from the state to establish an open spaces fund was met with public indignation after it was characterized by a local conservative commentator as a sneaky way to raise taxes. The legislation, which did not pass the state Senate during the last session, would not have raised taxes without a town-wide vote, but may have provided a tool by which the town could invest in properties that it has an interest in keeping undeveloped. At least one resident from the Feura Bush area urged the town to build a park there instead, something that a fund could potentially make possible.
The only action taken at the meeting was regarding the installation of a new drive-thru window at the Dunkin’ Donuts on Delaware Avenue, across from one of the proposed residential developments, 14 apartment units at 224 Delaware. After some discussion of noise levels and traffic flow, the board approved an environmental impact resolution and set a public hearing for Tuesday, Sept. 19, at 6 p.m., for the addition of a drive-thru at that location that will exit onto Lincoln Avenue.
For those unable to make it to meetings or public hearings on the above topics, or those who may not have had a chance to speak, Planning Board Chairman John Smolinsky told residents that they can reach out via e-mail using the links on the Planning Board website (http://www.townofbethlehem.org/141/Planning-Board). “If you have other comments or questions that you’ve thought of,” he said, “or if you’ve heard something you want to respond to, we always welcome written comments or emails.”