DELMAR – At a meeting held on Sept. 14 and attended by about a dozen residents, the Town of Bethlehem sought input on a ”vision” for Delaware Avenue’s commercial corridor and new project ideas for inclusion in this year’s application for a NY Forward grant. If successful, Bethlehem could win up to $4.5 million of state money to fund capital improvements along Delaware Avenue, which could complement the roadwork for the same stretch under its “Complete Streets” project.
“This one is about buildings and public space outside the roadway,” said John Taylor, Senior Economic Developer.
The Town will incorporate most of last year’s 13 proposed concepts including public projects, such as new public spaces, public/private projects like additional access points to the rail trail, and purely private projects, such as exterior and structural enhancements of existing structures.
After losing to Coxsackie, Kinderhook and Cambridge last year, the town is entering the second round for the money.
“We had a good conversation with the state about how to strengthen our application,” Taylor said. “We got a lot of positive feedback on our application and we think we have a strong foundation on which to compete this year.”
Taylor said that this year, “we want to show the state we have a critical mass of projects” and that “we have some real meat on the bones.”
He believes the town can present the state with a comprehensive set of projects that will work together, including public projects and private development, to overall improve the corridor. Taylor cited several mixed-use proposals that combine office space and that would create approximately 20-35 new housing units.
Taylor also thought that last year the state had prioritized awarding the grants to smaller, more rural communities.
“This round we hope the state will think of the suburban communities,” said Deputy Town Planner Leslie Lombardo, who was also present at the meeting.
Taylor reminded meeting attendees that all submitted proposals are on a “concept level” only because even if Bethlehem receives a grant, the process includes a call for projects. The state determines which projects are awarded the money.
He further explained that the state money subsidizes, but caps its contribution to any given private project at 20%. The property owner finances any remaining costs. Taylor thought that rising interest rates and construction costs may be contributing to no new concept proposals being submitted this year. Still, he hopes to receive some before the Sept. 29 submission deadline and may include ideas offered at the Sept. 14 meeting.
Although Taylor expects even more communities to apply this year, he remains optimistic that Bethlehem can be a winner.
“Based on feedback we received, Bethlehem had a strong application, but those towns [the grant awardees] have more traditional building stock, are more centralized and Delaware Avenue is not like that,” he said, adding that he believes the proposed “projects still fit the mold with what the state is looking for and that we will put forth the best application we can.”
Terri Egan, Bethlehem Chamber of Commerce President, who worked with the town to solicit proposals said, “This is really about reinforcing last year’s application with information we learned [from the state] after the last round was finished.”
She is also optimistic. “We think we have a good shot this year.”
Next steps for Complete Streets Project.
The town recently declared Complete Streets Project design “Alternative 2A” as the winner among the three designs proposed at a Town June 15 public meeting. Alternative 2A is the most extensive of the three proposed designs.
“We received consistent positive comments about Alternative 2A, and it was clear from the public comments received at both the June 15 meeting and on-line that Alternative 2A was the preferred choice,” said Director of Planning Robert Leslie.
The town’s project consultant will prepare a graphic summary of the comments made on Alternative 2A, which Leslie expects to be posted on the town’s website by the end of September.
The town also has recently met with and received approval from the New York State Department of Transportation to create a preliminary design plan based on Alternative 2A. DOT approval is needed because it owns the road. Before creating the preliminary design plan, town officials will meet with local business owners during October to discuss potential driveway improvements and consolidations along Delaware Avenue for inclusion in the preliminary design plan.
“We are looking for safer solutions on the driveways for better predictability for drivers and pedestrians,” said Leslie.
Once completed, the town will submit the preliminary design plan to the DOT for comment and then hopes to schedule another public meeting for early December to present the final plan.
This story appeared on page 6 of the September 20, 2023 print edition of the Spotlight