O little town of Bethlehem, how sprawled we see thee lie! Residents in Glenmont, New York are still reeling from the proposed creation of a new “Town Center” in Bethlehem Center along Route 9W. The Nigro Companies, a development company as prolific as the Easter Bunny, has been putting up big box retail projects throughout upstate New York. This “Town Center” contains 350,000 square feet of retail stores, including a Wal-Mart Supercenter and a Home Depot, Applebees, Wendy’s, and a bank. (They haven’t mentioned the gas station yet.) Everything people in a small New York town could desire! The parking lot alone will accomodate as many as 1,800 cars. The project, which was originally proposed in 1999, has been picking up speed recently as Glenmont town officials lend assistance to the process. Residents critical of the 75 acre plan have formed a group called PLAN 9W (People/Parents/Pedestrians Looking At Nigro and 9W). Residents say the new project will have a devastating impact on the existing central business district on Delaware Avenue. Despite town officials’ embrace of the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) prepared by the developer, Plan 9W says the study is grossly deficient, and intend to pull it apart at a public hearing in May. But the Town Planner told the Spotlight newspaper that officials want to start reviewing the specific site plan while the Final Environmental Impact Statement is being prepared. “Our hope is we’ll be far enough along with the site plan review that by the time the FEIS is approved, we’ll be to the point of cleaning up a few details.” The Planner then predicted that the process could be completed in time to begin construction by the summer. So even before the public gets to comment, town officials already have Nigro ready to bulldoze the site, and are talking about the project as a foregone conclusion. Anticipating some public unhappiness with this scenario, the Planner added: “If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that just when you think there isn’t any opposition, it turns up. At about the public hearing stage, people tend to come out in numbers.” This comment makes the public sound like cockroaches. Two nights ago, the Bethlehem Town Board voted unanimously to approve the DEIS and send it to public review, over the objections of Plan 9W. “We don’t have an overall vision,” said Kathleen Martens, a Glenmont resident and leader of the citizen’s group. “People are concerned abouit their community’s character…All of this is really a prime example of urban sprawl — a lot of business development not in the main area of town, but adjacent to a city area.”
One local resident told me that when he went to the town Planning Department to get a copy of the Master Plan, the Planner told him it wasn’t really a Master Plan, and that it was never really adopted and had no force of law. In the Plan, the resident reported, was a survey of town residents showing strong opposition to large retail centers. “The scale of new retail development should be designed primarily to serve residents in the community, or its subareas,” the Plan says, “and not regional or subregional markets.” It sounds like the little town of Bethlehem is running with no headlights, with a couple of people doing all the driving. Any town willing to create a new “Town Center” while its old one dies, certainly has no Master Plan guiding them.