Open Space Planning

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Farms and Forests Conservation Program

Conservation Project Landowner Application - To be completed by landowner(s), but please contact Karen Shaw, Open Space Coordinator, at kshaw@townofbethlehem.org, 518-439-4955 x 1106 with any questions!

Conservation Project Evaluation Criteria - After the above application is submitted, and project is deemed eligible, this evaluation will be completed by Town staff in partnership with the landowner applicant(s) at an informal application meeting.

Bethlehem’s new Farms and Forests Fund

FarmsAndForestFund1-redtractorandfieldAt its September 25th, 2019 meeting, the Town Board unanimously approved the creation of a new tool in the community’s conservation toolbox: the Farms and Forests Fund. This new Fund will help to provide conservation options to farmers and landowners as an alternative to selling for development. This Fund can also accept charitable donations from residents to help support farms and forests conservation.


How do I apply to this Fund?
With this Fund in place, interested farmers and landowners who want their land to stay in farming, forest, or open space can submit a Conservation Project Landowner Application to sell a conservation/agricultural easement to the Town, or to sell their land to the Town. Although it will take time for the Fund to accrue a viable amount of revenue, now is the right time for interested farmers and landowners to reach out to the Town to discuss their wishes for their land and learn about the benefits of conservation options. Land conservation projects take a considerable amount of time, planning, partnerships, and often additional grant monies (many conservation/agricultural easement projects also apply for NYS Farmland Protection Implementation Grants). If you are curious about the Farms and Forests Fund, Karen Shaw, Bethlehem’s Open Space Coordinator is ready to start the conversation with you about what you feel is best for you and the future of your land – please reach out!  kshaw@townofbethlehem.org, 518-439-4955 x 1106.

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FarmsAndForestFund3-barnWhat is a conservation/agricultural easement?
Often referred to as purchase of development rights (or PDR), purchase of a conservation/agricultural easement is a voluntary land protection technique that compensates landowners for limiting future non-agricultural development on their farms and open space land. This is a conservation technique that has been used by towns and land conservancies for over 40 years. Examples of successful regional projects are Indian Ladder Farms, Laughing Earth Farm, Riverview Orchards, and Tilldale Farm.

Under a conservation/agricultural easement program, an entity such as a town or a land conservancy, works with interested landowners to purchase the development rights (e.g., purchase an agricultural/conservation easement) from a piece of property.  By doing so, the town or conservancy is essentially purchasing the landowner’s rights to develop the land. The landowner can then use that money to invest in the farm, prepare for retirement, etc. The land itself remains in private ownership, but with the development value removed. All easements are uniquely tailored to the landowner’s wishes and stay with the land in perpetuity. Any future landowners need to comply with the terms of the easement, protecting the farmland and open space forever.

May 23, 2019

Eight Acres of Wetland and Wildlife Habitat in Glenmont is Conserved Forever: In the historically agricultural area of Bethlehem near the intersection of Wemple Road and Route 9W, development is on the horizon, but not on a special eight-acre parcel of open land. Through a creative partnership, the Town of Bethlehem and the non-profit Albany County Land Bank have worked together to conserve an important green space as a haven for nature and as a community benefit for generations to come. Read more about how this open space has been protected.  

Farmland Conservation Event at Indian Ladder Farms a success!

On June 13th, 2019, over 120 people filled up the apple barn at Indian Ladder Farms to hear local and regional stories told by farmers and farm support organizations to help us understand how farmland conservation can happen successfully. This event was the second in a series called “Meet the People Making Local Conservation Happen: Talks, Tastes, and a Tour”.

Read more about the speakers and farmers.

While sipping local craft beers and ciders made from hops and apples grown just yards away, attendees learned that farmland conservation is often achieved through a voluntary purchase of development rights (PDR) project, whereby the farmer maintains ownership and operation of the farmland, but sells only the right to develop the land to a conservancy, who then holds a conservation easement on the farmland, keeping it open forever. The value of those development rights are then paid to the farmer. The farmer can use this capital to invest in the farm, buy out partners, retire, or anything else they choose. A PDR project almost always requires partnerships and funding support from land conservancies and supportive government entities. Most of the farmers that spoke had applied for and received a PDR grant from the NYS Agriculture and Markets Farmland Protection Implementation Program (FPIG). Land conservancies, like the Mohawk Hudson Land Conservancy (MHLC), and municipalities, can help farmers apply for these state grants that are available about every two years. The next round of these FPIG PDR grants will most likely be in the spring of 2020 – interested farmers should contact MHLC (518-436-6346) or Karen Shaw at the town (kshaw@townofbethlehem.org) by this fall to discuss applying.

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Land Conservation Event a Success!

On February 7th, 2019, more than 130 community members came together for an inspirational and educational evening of local refreshments and “conservation stories” at Five Rivers Environmental Education Center for the “Meet the People Making Local Conservation Happen: Talks, Tastes, and a Tour!” event. The room was filled to capacity while 10 speakers gave short talks about unique ways to protect land by utilizing partnerships, shared funding, community support, and creative thinking. Seasonal foods were served by farm-to-table chefs from Field Notes and hot cider was on tap, fresh-pressed that morning by Indian Ladder Farms. Speakers included local landowners and regional partner organizations, including the Open Space Institute, Scenic Hudson, Mohawk Hudson Land Conservancy, Rensselaer Plateau Alliance, Pine Hollow Arboretum, Albany County Land Bank, and others. Participants left with new ideas about how conservation of forests, fields, water, and wildlife can succeed locally. Thank you to all of our speakers, event co-sponsors, and partners for making this event a success! Part two of this “making local conservation happen” series will focus entirely on conserving farmland and will be held on June 13th, 6-8 p.m. at Indian Ladder Farms in the Apple Barn (see flyer below).

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Open Space and Farmland Conservation Opinion Survey

Thank you to the over 1,500 residents who responded to the Town’s recent Open Space and Farmland Conservation Survey! A summary of the survey results were presented to the Town Board at the December 12th, 2018 meeting. The Town appreciates your input and looks forward to continuing the open space and farmland conservation discussion with community members.

Presentation of the Open Space and Farmland Conservation Survey Results

Executive Summary of the Open Space and Farmland Conservation Survey Results

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Survey comments received on open-ended questions:

Question 13: How concerned are you about development in town as it relates to loss of open space and farmland?  Responses

Question 14: In your opinion, where are places in Bethlehem that are most important to conserve? Responses

Question 15: Please use this space to share your interests, concerns, and questions about open space and farmland conservation in Bethlehem.
Responses

Questions? Please contact Karen at kshaw@townofbethlehem.org or 518-439-4955 x 1106.

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Albany County

The Albany County Agricultural and Farmland Protection Board has recently updated the Albany County Agricultural and Farmland Protection Plan, which includes recommendations that could benefit the Bethlehem agricultural community. For more information on the plan, contact Laura DeGaetano at the Albany County Office of Natural Resource Conservation at 518-447-5670 or Laura.DeGaetano@albanycountyny.gov.

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Open space conservation planning has been actively discussed in Bethlehem for over a decade. It was identified as a goal in the 2005 Comprehensive Plan, and has been raised in Town Board discussions and by a number of advisory committees.  To keep the community informed about the town’s ongoing open space planning process and efforts, this page is dedicated to relevant town documents, presentations, public engagement opportunities and related information as it becomes available. Please sign up for the town’s monthly e-Newsletter and Notify Me features to stay up-to-date on both the town’s conservation efforts and opportunities to get involved.

  • The town board that advises open space efforts is the 5-member voluntary Conservation Easement Review Board. The public is welcome to attend the CERB’s meetings (dates, agenda and minutes are recorded on the CERB webpage).
  • Questions about how to get involved in open space conservation? Please reach out to the town’s Open Space Coordinator, Karen Shaw, at OpenSpace@townofbethlehem.org, or 518-439-4955 x 1106.

Final “Bethlehem Open Space Plan: Conservation Criteria Implementation

As open space land in its natural state provides a myriad of benefits to us all, the town will employ the tools within this document, and others as they are developed in the future, to continue to work to balance appropriate development with open space conservation, with the goal of protecting Bethlehem’s community character, scenic qualities, and ecological and economic values.

The town's stated purpose of open space planning is "to ensure that future consumption of land for development is balanced with the conservation of land for its open space value". With this in mind, and after receiving and incorporating public comments, the town has finalized an Open Space Plan that includes:

  1. An updated, town-wide open space inventory and database, as illustrated in four Open Space Conservation Values Maps (included in the plan and also linked separately below);
  2. A list of data-driven Conservation Criteria (25) with which to evaluate open space land for its conservation values; and,
  3. An effective, flexible, data-based method - the GIS Conservation Analysis Tool - to evaluate, numerically score, and prioritize the conservation of open space land.

The ongoing use and implementation of these plan components by the Town Board, Planning Board, Planning Department Staff, and the Conservation Easement Review Board, will prepare and guide the town in responding to landowner inquiries about conservation opportunities, as well as inform the town’s development review and design process. Further, it will inform the use of limited financial resources and direct future funds to the conservation of open space land that will have the most beneficial impact town-wide. Having this open space plan in place will also support town applications for state, regional and federal grant funding for conservation implementation.

Key to the success of the conservation tools described in this plan is ongoing public engagement and involvement. Town staff and town boards are dedicated to working with the public, with interested individuals, and with land trusts and other entities to strengthen partnerships that support land conservation efforts that benefit both the landowner and the community.

Interested in learning about conservation opportunities for your land? Please contact Karen Shaw, Open Space Coordinator, at OpenSpace@townofbethlehem.org, or 518-439-4955 x 1106. Thank you!

Final Open Space Conservation Values Maps


(these maps are also found and described within the above Open Space Plan)

What are these maps and their purpose? The first step in identifying and prioritizing open space lands in town was to conduct an open space inventory that included natural and cultural resources in Bethlehem. Using data collected from over 20 public data sources (including town, state and federal); inputting more than 70 data sets into a GIS mapping system; and reviewing community open space values stated in past surveys, focus groups and public meetings; the town developed the above four Open Space Conservation Values maps. These maps, along with field verification when needed, will be used on an ongoing basis to help inform town conservation decisions.  Reviewing these maps, and the relationships they show, is a useful step in considering any land in town for conservation purposes. The many open space values and benefits illustrated within these four maps are summarized in the Open Space Plan linked above.

To view the presentation delivered by town planning staff at the 2017 Open Space Conservation Public Workshop, please see the following:

Final Community Character Value Map

Conservation Easement Exemption Program for Bethlehem Landowners with 5 or more acres of open space

  • The Conservation Easement Exemption Program, overseen by the 5 member Conservation Easement Review Board, is intended to conserve open space lands, help maintain the character of the Town, and provide financial incentives and assistance to those landowners willing to forego development and maintain open space. Property owners with five (5) or more acres of land who commit to conserving their land as open space for a minimum of 15 years (and up to perpetuity) can receive an exemption on their property assessment resulting in a reduction in property taxes corresponding to the length of their conservation commitment.  Landowner applications for the program are accepted on a rolling basis; if you own 5 or more acres in town, please consider applying.  The Planning Department is happy to answer any questions you may have (518-439-4955 x 1157).

Scenic Bethlehem Photo Survey

This summer, residents were asked to participate in a Scenic Bethlehem Photo Survey and we received over 300 photos of scenic and open places in town that are special to residents; examples may be viewed in the Scenic Bethlehem Photo Survey 2017 album on the town’s Facebook page, www.facebook.com/BethlehemNY/.  These photos will be mapped as part of the town’s ongoing Open Space Planning efforts.  Thank you to all who participated.


The town has mapped a sample of the photos received through this public project. Click on the image on the right to view the general "scenic views" locations, as suggested by participants and sample photos.

March 20, 2018 Press Release

Town documents regarding open space planning

Examples of Open Space Plans

How can I enjoy Bethlehem’s open spaces and get involved?