Marbletown Natural Heritage Plan Airs

Natural Heritage Plan airs

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STONE RIDGE - A draft of the Marbletown Natural Heritage Plan, a comprehensive strategy aimed at protecting the town's natural resources and assets, will be released at a public forum this evening.

The meeting, at 7:15 p.m. in the Marbletown Community Center on U.S. Route 209, is intended to provide an opportunity for public input before the plan is finalized and considered for adoption by the Town Board.

"This plan will allow us to balance appropriate levels of growth and development while protecting our critical agricultural and historical resources," said town Supervisor Vin Martello. "This is important just to give us a better database or inventory of where important natural resources are, from farmland to wooded land to wildlife habitats. ... This will give residents an overview of the town's situation to inform their decision-making process."

The implementation of the Natural Heritage Plan, funded with grant money, was in the town's 2005 comprehensive plan. The plan is an addition to recent planning efforts, including the Marbletown Index of Natural, Historical and Cultural Resources, and the Aquifer Protection Study, both completed in 2005.

The draft plan, about 70 pages long, will be presented by Behan Planning Associates, the town's consultant on the project.

"This is not meant to be regulatory in nature," said Melissa Barry, an associate planner for Behan Planning Associates. "We see this as more of a proactive document; it's about trying to go out and seize these opportunities."

The plan will cover elements that make up the town's "natural heritage," such as forests, farms and water resources. It further identifies priority areas for conservation and recommends strategies for the town to advance its goal of balancing development and economic growth with the preservation of natural resources.

Included in the plan is the Marbletown Natural Heritage Vision Map, which summarizes the priority areas and resources. The plan also outlines immediate and long term benefits to residents. One of the immediate benefits was the range of opportunities for community participation.

"Unless we're proactive and make decisions that need to be made to provide the right type of environment for balancing appropriate growth and development, those decisions are going to be made for us," Martello said. "Change will happen with or without us."

"This plan kind of provides a natural background for fitting growth in," said John Behan, a principal with Behan Planning Associates. "It identifies places that can absorb development. Those places can become community decision points."

Martello indicated that Marbletown had some of the area's most advanced zoning laws. While this is not something new, Martello said that the Natural Heritage Plan is simply another step in staying "ahead of the curve." Martello said the town is looking to create an Internet database to help keep records of the town's infrastructure and scientific data.

"This can become a prototype for towns around the county," Martello said. "The challenges of new growth don't stop at municipal boundaries."

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