Preserve Bethlehem, NY and Historic Slingerlands
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Bethlehem Alliance for Historic and Community Preservation
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SIGN THE PETITION
The Bethlehem Alliance is a growing citizens organization committed to preserving our historic, community and environmental heritage, safeguarding our neighborhoods and ensuring that we have a vibrant community that grows carefully and prospers. Help us preserve our town’s “strong sense of place and community” that brought many Bethlehem residents and small businesses here to begin with!
We urge the Bethlehem Town Board to:
1) Commence an immediate, rigorous review of the Slingerlands National Historic District before considering any new development and consider all zoning options to preserve the historic district and surrounding community, including safe and enhanced linkages with the Slingerland Family Burial Vault, the Albany County Rail Trail and the Pine Hollow Arboretum and other significant resources; and,
2) Work with the greater Bethlehem community to review zoning reforms which: a) establish high standards that developers would be required to meet (traffic, safety, alterations to community character, etc.) for project approval; and, b) establish a clear process for the town planning board to disapprove proposed development as necessary to preserve our neighborhoods if developers do not meet these standards.
By signing this petition, your support will ensure that:
Your voice is heard to send a message that you care about our community and want to help define its future;
We protect the character, safety and quality of life in Bethlehem in all of our neighborhoods; and,
We preserve the Slingerlands National Historic District and our surrounding community now and for future generations.
Stand with us and urge the town board to adopt meaningful, permanent zoning changes that will have the force of law in Bethlehem! Each signature will result in the petition letter below being emailed to the Bethlehem Town Board. If you prefer, please write or email the town directly.
Overwhelmingly, residents have asked what they can do to help. You can:
Actively volunteer to spread the word about the issues facing our community, encouraging other residents to sign the petition and learn more on about us on Facebook;
Share alerts with your Bethlehem friends and neighbors;
Attend town board meetings: TO SIGN UP FOR EMAIL NOTICES OF TOWN MEETINGS, GO TO NOTIFY ME AT http://www.townofbethlehem.org/list.aspx
Speak out about the issues:
Write letters in support of community preservation to the editors of the Bethlehem Spotlight and Times Union;
Post comments in support on our Facebook Page;
Call, email and write to our Town Board members and tell them how you feel about preserving our Bethlehem community!
Call 518-439-4955, ext. 1164;
Email all town board members at TownBoard@townofbethlehem.org;
Write a letter: Bethlehem Town Board, Town Hall Room 106 445 Delaware Ave. Delmar, NY 12054;
Speak at the Town Board meetings held every two weeks (public comment period is at the start of each meeting at 6:00 p.m.); and
Email individual town board members (use the email addresses below) to share your personal views as a constituent they represent.
John Clarkson, Town Supervisor email@example.com
Julie Sasso, Board Member firstname.lastname@example.org
Joyce Becker, Board Member email@example.com
David VanLuven, Board Member firstname.lastname@example.org
Giles Wagoner, Board Member email@example.com
READ OUR DECEMBER 14, 2016 LETTER OF RECOMMENDATIONS TO THE BETHLEHEM TOWN BOARD
- Bethlehem Town Board
We would like a commitment from the town board in partnership with residents to undertake a two-part plan that includes: a) an immediate, overdue and rigorous review to preserve the Slingerlands National Historic District, including the sadly deteriorating Slingerland Family burial site; and b) a long-term assessment of zoning reforms which establish standards to guide future growth in direct response to concerns of the broader Bethlehem community to preserve traditional single-family residential neighborhoods. These inter-related priorities require urgent attention to ensure that Bethlehem remains vibrant and prospers.
The Bethlehem town board should put principles into practice (see specific recommendations) by utilizing the distinguishing character, small town appeal and quality of life features to define zoning policies as a centerpiece of sustainable growth. As the town board reviews existing “growth” management policies, the quality of life standards which set Bethlehem apart from other municipalities could be used to strengthen site review requirements as clear, measurable criteria to evaluate new development. Bethlehem can and should set an example for the entire Capital Region by integrating preservation standards into zoning requirements which would have a positive long-lasting impact on the town.
Historic, community and environmental preservation reinforces our sense of place, identity and growth as a town. The Slingerlands National Historic District belongs to our entire community and deserves protection as a significant resource because it enhances our shared quality of life. We do not view this as an “either OR choice” of historic and community preservation vs. growth and development. The real “either OR choice” is what course of action the town board takes as we approach the “tipping point or the turning point” in Bethlehem’s continued evolution as town rich with family farms, small town appeal and unique local businesses which warrant collective support from our community.
We welcome the opportunity to work productively with the town board on these issues and encourage you to utilize our citizens group as a resource moving forward. We look forward to your response and appreciate your considering our requests and recommendations.
Bethlehem Alliance for Historic & Community Preservation
At the Crossroads: Recommendations to Preserve the Slingerlands Historic District and Surrounding Bethlehem Community
These recommendations are based on Bethlehem town code enabling authority pursuant to:
• Section § 128-92 A. (Procedure) of Town of Bethlehem Zoning Code which authorizes “the town board from time to time, on its own motion, on petition or on recommendation of the Planning Board, to amend, supplement or repeal the regulations and provisions of this chapter in the manner provided by Town Law;”
• Section § 98-23. (Statutory authority) Town of Bethlehem Town Code which in accordance with § 10 of the Municipal Home Rule Law of the State of New York, authorizes the town board to enact local laws and amend local laws for the purpose of promoting the health, safety or general welfare of the Town of Bethlehem and for the protection and enhancement of its physical environment.
The Bethlehem Alliance for Historic & Community Preservation recommends that the town board review, consider and take action on the following:
1. Restore and Properly Maintain the Town-Owned 19th Century Slingerland Family Burial Vault – Prior to considering any site application for development in the Slingerlands National Historic District, engage a qualified engineer to: a) assess burial vault condition and deterioration; b) develop recommendations for restoration, care and maintenance; c) complete project fortification, stabilization and restoration; and d) issue an interim and final report on such matters by December 31, 2017. This is an urgent priority for a seriously and continually deteriorating but valued historic resource.
2. Adopt Zoning Policies that Preserve Slingerlands National Historic District and Surrounding Community - By or before January 30, 2017, convene a resident-led community advisory historic preservation committee to work with the town board to review the Slingerlands National Historic District and surrounding community before the planning board considers any site applications for development. The committee and town board should decide whether it or, separately and with oversight by the committee and town board should commission an independent body to study, conduct and complete this review. Since Slingerlands is home to Bethlehem’s only town-owned historic family burial vault, trailhead on the Albany County Helderberg Hudson Rail Trail and nationally-recognized Arboretum at Pine Hollow, the committee should consider, review and recommend zoning options to preserve the historic district and surrounding community, including safe, enhanced preservation and linkages to these and other significant historic and environmental resources. Review of zoning options should include but not be limited to: establishment of a historic overlay district (a district, with supplementary regulations, which is superimposed upon existing use districts); a landmark preservation law; historic district preservation easements; development transfer rights program; establishment of town SEQR ordinance; and a final community supported plan for town adoption and implementation. The heart of historic Slingerlands is zoned as a mixed-use hamlet. Notably, design guidelines for new or in-fill construction in hamlet districts under Section § 128-33 E of the town code encourage but do not require a design “to be compatible with the general character of buildings on the street frontage; the setback, height, bulk, gable and pitch of roofs, use of porches, shutters and other exterior design elements should (note this is permissive not mandatory) result in an overall design that complements the existing character of the streetscape.”
3. Adopt Zoning Policies that Integrate Quality of Life Standards with Required Site Plan Review Criteria - By or before March 30, 2017, convene a community advisory zoning reform committee to work with the town board to: a) consider, review and recommend zoning reforms which establish a framework for growth management and land use policies that incorporate resident-defined quality of life standards as required
criteria the planning board must consider for site plan review applications, with revisions to Section § 128-71 E of Town of Bethlehem Zoning Code (Site Plan Review and Approval); and, b) issue an interim and final report on such matters by December 31, 2017. Quality of life criteria should include but not be limited to; measures to determine the impact of development on traffic, safety, alterations to the character of neighborhoods, open space and recreational amenities, scenic and visual quality, architectural design, economic, social and municipal standards of the community.
4. Adopt Town Code Policies that Establishing Performance Zoning – Performance zoning prohibits certain uses of land if the impact of proposed development would exceed specified thresholds unless the impact is mitigated or eliminated. Potential benefits of development should encompass quality of life standards which outweigh adverse impacts. While Section § 128-22 (Definitions) of the town code includes and defines “performance standards as measurable standards imposed under the chapter to ensure that a proposed use can operate or locate in a particular district without exceeding clearly defined standards of tolerance in areas such as noise, odor, smoke, lighting, glare, dust, vibration, and other potentially objectionable characteristics,” there is no provision for performance zoning. Using quality of life standards in part to evaluate site review requirements, the community advisory zoning reform committee and town board should consider performance zoning to regulate development based on permissible effects or impacts of a proposed use, rather than by specifying the zoning elements of use, area and density. Since it appears that no other local municipality has performance zoning, Bethlehem could lead the Capital Region by implementing standards which would qualitatively define the future of our community. By enacted zoning regulations that establish performance standards rather than relying solely on numerical criteria to assess for example the “perceptible” impact of traffic that results from high density and congestion, the town could better regulate cumulative impacts (when multiple actions affect the same resources). Since increased development also produces increased demand on town infrastructure, traffic, sewer and water services, schools and emergency services, the committee should consider requiring developers to conduct and complete impact studies and cost analyses for the planning board to adequately project demands for additional service needs. Bethlehem should also consider a growth-capping plan to manage and control development by allowing a predetermined amount of growth within a defined period.
5. Adopt Zoning Policies that Established Criteria and Process to Disapprove a Development Application – In response to a November 2, 2016 FOIL request for all planning board determinations made to disapprove any and all site plan applications by year pursuant to Section § 128-71J of the Town Code from 1980 to the present, the town indicated “none” (section quoted in effect in 2005). Therefore, the community advisory zoning reform committee and the town board should consider, review and recommend development and implementation of a clear process for the planning board to expressly prohibit development if developers fail to meet required quality of life standards as defined by performance zoning provisions unless the impact is mitigated or eliminated (traffic, safety, alterations to community and so on). Presently, unless a developer voluntarily withdraws a site application for proposed development, the planning board generally modifies proposed development projects unless there are general violations of the town code or NYS building code. Moreover, even if proposed development meets local zoning requirements, it may not be evidence of public need. The planning board should be empowered, authorized and compelled to conduct rigorous, objective, evaluative site plan review and a process through which a development application may be disapproved unless a developer meets required criteria and as necessary and appropriate to protect the health, safety and welfare of the community.
6. Adopt Planning Policies to Regularly Review, Amend and Update Comprehensive Plan – Bethlehem’s master plan provided the blueprint for immediate and long-range protection, enhancement, growth and development of the Town adopted over a decade ago. While the town has successfully achieved many milestones under the plan, it should be reviewed and amended every five years to ensure practical utility for planning. Until an updated review is completed, Bethlehem will face continued pressures between the competing priorities of preservation and development and rely on zoning policies which are predicated on an approval process, heavily weighted toward development and inconsistent with apparent preferences of a growing majority of town residents.
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