How much is suburban green space worth?by Brandt Williams, Minnesota Public Radio
In the last five years, residents of several Minnesota cities or counties have voted to spend more than $50 million to preserve open space and park land. It may be that more people are concerned about conserving the natural environment. But there's also evidence to show that municipalities are considering the possible financial benefits of open space.
Eagan, Minn. — This fall, voters in Eagan will decide if the city should spend more than $10 million to buy the now-closed Carriage Hills golf course.
If voters say yes, they'll pay more in property taxes so the city can turn the 120-acre golf course into a public park, or campground or put some government buildings there.
If voters say no, the land will go to a developer who wants to put up nearly 500 units of housing.
Eagan resident Neil Charpentier lives about a block away from the golf course. He says the city should buy the land.
"One thing is, it's a good deal on the price. I'm a fiscal conservative and I don't want the government or anybody spending money unnecessarily."
It may sound counter-intuitive that a self-professed fiscal conservative would vote for a measure that will raise his property taxes AND take land that could be earning tax revenue off the rolls. But Charpentier says taxpayers will pay more in the long run if homes are built on the land. He says that's because the city services required to reach the residents that will occupy all the new housing, will cost more than the tax revenue coming in.
Some conservationists agree with that assessment.
"What people are saying about the cost of community services is true."
Cordelia Pierson is with the Trust for Public Land, a nationwide conservation group. She hasn't seen Niel Charpentier's numbers. But she says past studies in other cities have shown that it can be more expensive to develop land than it is to preserve it.
And Pierson says there's evidence to show that cities and counties can actually generate more green - as in money - by protecting green space. Pierson points to a 2006 study in Washington County. There, the Trust for Public Land found that lots located near open space saw a boost in property value of 15 thousand dollars, per home.
"So when a community looks at its budget and says well, this is how much it's going to cost for us to protect land or to manage it, that additional property revenue from the enhanced value is something they need to be factoring into that equation as well."
Pierson says the Trust for Public Land is in the midst of a similar study for Hennepin county which should be completed in the next few weeks.
There are other factors that may explain why cities, especially in the suburbs, may be taking a closer look at preserving green space. Jane Prohaska is the director of the Minnesota Land Trust. She says before the economy and the housing market slowed down, many suburban areas were abuzz with new home construction and commercial development. She says that made it harder for city leaders to concentrate on greenspace planning.
"What we're seeing again right now is that now that there's a little break in the action, if you will, I think some communities have some time that they can be thinking about that before the development increases are back."
Now that they have had some time to think about alternatives to adding more buildings, Prohaska says people in cities like Red Wing are getting serious about preserving what makes their city unique.
"Red Wing, of course, is an extraordinary historic city with these wonderful bluff lands and that's part of what they want to preserve is the character and look of the city by not allowing development on some of these bluff tops -- and by looking at those for places they want to make sure are preserved."
Cities like Red Wing may soon get a significant financial boost for their conservation efforts. On Election Day Minnesotans can vote to dedicate part of the state's sales tax revenue to pay for efforts to protect natural resources.
Brandt Williams, Minnesota Public Radio News, Minneapolis.
- Morning Edition, 10/20/2008, 7:45 a.m.