Yurt controversy brewing in Bethlehem

BETHLEHEM – During the Covid pandemic, yurts and tepees became a solution to the social distancing dilemma at the Bethlehem Children’s School. Now that the pandemic is over, many residents of Fisher Boulevard want to see the Central Asian structures come down.

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“It just doesn’t fit the character of the neighborhood,” said Peter Landi, who began a petition crusade intent on eradicating the yurts. “How would you feel if they did this next to your house?”

Landi’s crusade has resulted with bright red and yellow “Say No to Yurts” lawn signs in the neighborhoods surrounding the school.

“The noise is intrusive and the expansion we find just a little unreasonable,” Landi stresses.

Since the Bethlehem Children’s School opened on Fisher Boulevard, enrollment has tripled from roughly 30 students to the current level of 109 students.

“Everyone is in favor of children and nature and green and all of that stuff that they espouse,” Landi continues, “but our questions and our sticking points are really about propriety. Does this belong in a residential neighborhood and can we find something more suitable?”

“You always hear that you have a residential neighborhood but it doesn’t seem like that’s something that should be allowed,” said Elliott Hassoun, who lives on Trumpeter Place, around the corner from the school. “My wife said we’re all probably going to have to move. I said no, we’re not going to have to move. I can’t imagine that in this day and age that this would be allowed.”

At a recent town board meeting, where both sides were able to share their views and sentiments, Landi says he came away from that meeting feeling marginalized.

“We feel that we’re not being listened to,” Landi stated, “We’re being alienated and no one is working with us what so ever.

Bethlehem Children’s School Head of School Christine Capeless Vaughan issued a statement that read:

Bethlehem Children’s School’s first priority is the early development of its students through nature-based education. We began to experience an increase in enrollment before the pandemic, but during the pandemic, like many Capital Region private schools, we needed to adapt quickly and efficiently in order to best serve our students. Our enrollment has since remained constant even as the school’s popularity grows, because local families are attracted to the safety and efficacy of our nature-based outdoor learning.

Our yurts align with our focus on nature and being able to bring our students outdoors to appreciate our surroundings. We look forward to working with the Bethlehem Town Planning Board to continue to find a workable middle ground without disrupting the students’ education.

We have been coordinating with our Facility and Grounds Committee, developing plans that we have already shared with the Bethlehem Town Planning Board, and we will continue to keep an open channel of communication to ensure a swift and agreeable outcome. Some of the proposed solutions we’ve presented include improving the sightline for our neighbors through evergreen and deciduous plantings, and the relocation of our yurts to create more space for our neighbors.

News Channel 13 reached out to Bethlehem Town Supervisor David VanLuven seeking comment for this story. We have not heard back from him.