Panoramas, open lands are valuable resources for local economy and culture

At the last Jerusalem Town Board meeting in August, George Frantz from the Department of City & Regional Planning at Cornell University made a presentation on the latest effort to protect the Finger Lakes.

Many are familiar with the successes in protecting the Keuka Lake watershed by the Keuka Watershed Improvement Cooperative (KWIC) with the uniform regulation of wastewater management in all the eight towns and villages that border the lake. KWIC is now, quite literally, turning their eye to another resource in need of protection — the vistas of and around Keuka Lake. The Keuka Watershed Viewshed Protection Program is a project funded by the New York State Department of State through Title XI of the Environmental Protection Fund.

Introduced at the Jerusalem meeting by Stephen Butchko, Town Supervisor of Wayne and KWIC Chairman, Frantz gave a portion of the presentation he made in April for the Land Use Leadership Alliance (LULA) workshop for a Sustainable Keuka Lake at the Yates County Auditorium. There, he described the need to plan sustainable development: “Development which meets the needs of current generations without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs, which is defined by four dimensions: social equity, environmental sustainability, economic prosperity, and cultural vitality.”

The pressure of development must be directed in areas that do not diminish the “scenic resources” of the region, defined as “public areas, features, and sites that are recognized, visited, and enjoyed by the general public for their inherent visual qualities.” (Maine Scenic Assessment Handbook)

In the effort to protect the valuable scenery of our region, the Keuka Watershed Viewshed Protection Program was founded in order to:

• Preserve the scenic beauty and character of the Watershed

• Promote agricultural economic development & tourism

• Maintain the water quality of the lake through protection of agricultural land, wetlands & forest

• Integrate greater public access.

These goals are founded on the premises that woodland and agriculture are and should be the predominant open space; that agriculture and tourism are our regional economic engines; that wetlands and mature forests are integral landscape components; and that protecting Keuka Lake’s “AA” water quality is critical.

Like other towns in the Finger Lakes have begun to do, Frantz recommends Jerusalem and the other KWIC members implement a plan involving the voluntary purchase or donation of development rights; the acquisition of key land parcels; zoning and land use regulations; and site design review.

Frantz and his researchers have identified 40 parcels in the town of Jerusalem worthy of preservation efforts. These were identified and ranked based on location, visibility from public space, number of viewers, parcel size, use of the land (agriculture, vineyards, etc.), ecological attributes (prime soils, wetlands, woodlands, etc.), and contiguity with other parcels.

As top priority parcels in Jerusalem, Frantz recommended eight parcels on the tip of Bluff Point:

• Four agricultural and woodland landscapes at the top of the Bluff, including the Wagner Mansion estate;

• Four wooded hillside landscapes on either side, including the Garrett Memorial Chapel property. Both are sites of National Register listed landmarks.

The second set of priority parcels include:

• Route 54A between Keuka Park and Branchport (8 parcels) as a major tourist route and entry point for Keuka Lake State Park, with unique agricultural, ecological, historic, and panoramic landscapes.

• Guyanoga Valley Road (15 parcels) as a major travel route from points north and west, with a unique agricultural, ecological & historic landscape, and for water quality protection for Sugar Creek.

• Western Hillside (8 parcels) with Italy Hill and Darby’s Corners Roads as a major travel routes on west side of lake with a panoramic agricultural landscape.

All told, the priority parcels amount to 2,950 acres. Frantz estimates the cost of conservation easements to be approximately $4 million over 20 years, with funding from the New York State Environmental Protection Fund. However, the estimated local cost is only about $1 million over 20 years, through landowner donation, individual and foundation donations, town contribution, staff “in-kind” contributions, and the Finger Lakes Land Trust.

Frantz, Butchko, and KWIC urge municipal adoption of the View-shed Protection Program by all the member towns, and working with the state, private land trusts, and individual land owners to protect scenic assets before they are further compromised. Other towns in Yates County already support the protection of agricultural land, most notably in Milo, along Rte 14A.

The municipalities around Keuka Lake are Jerusalem, Barrington, Milo, and Penn Yan in Yates County and Pulteney, Urbana, Wayne, and Hammondsport in Steuben County.