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Economic Benefits of Open Space

The Town of Chester last had a building moratorium in 2001. The impact of New Residental Development on school taxes, environment, infrastructure and open space continues to be a hot topic.

The Chester Comprehensive Plan adopted in 2003 estimates an additional 3,501 potential dwellings until the town is built out. When added to the Village, the total population build out would go from around 12,000 to 23,000 people.(NEW: Chester adopts an updated Comprehensive Plan in 2015. For more info, click on: Chester Plan Revision)

Many residents in Chester and neighboring communties have voiced their concerns about increasing school taxes along with traffic, sewer and water issues as a result of new residental development. In addition, they want to choose the best land to save in their town rather than wait and see what's leftover from developers.

As a result - May 14, 2004 research survey shows that Orange County voters are clearly concerned about the pressures of growth and development and its impact on open space and environment. A strong majority would support a bond referendum of $50 million at an average household cost of $41 a year for the purpose of acquiring and protecting open space.

In October 2004, Orange County adopts the first county open space plan in New York State, and plans to spend $20 million over 5 years on open space protection.

In the November 2004 Election, voter reaction to the pressures of uncontrolled growth and sprawl was bipartisan. Chester and Goshen were among 111 communities out of 147 nationwide that passed local measures to create a total of $11 billion in public funding. In New York alone, voters passed eight of the nine ballot measures for conservation funding in their communities totaling nearly $273 million.


Sprawl Myths
Urban Growth Means Lower Taxes -- and Other Myths
by Donella H. Meadows

Myths: This development will give us jobs environmental protection will hurt the economy and growth is good for us. If we've heard those arguments once, we've heard them a thousand times, stated with utmost certainty and without the slightest evidence. That's because there is no evidence. Or rather, there is plenty of evidence, most of which disproves these deeply held pro-growth beliefs.

Here is a short summary of some of the evidence. For more, see Eben Fodor's new book "Better, Not Bigger," which lists and debunks the following "Twelve Big Myths of Growth."

Myth 1: Growth provides needed tax revenues. Check out the tax rates of cities larger than yours. There are a few exceptions but the general rule is: the larger the city, the higher the taxes. That's because development requires water, sewage treatment, road maintenance, police and fire protection, garbage pickup -- a host of public services. Almost never do the new taxes cover the new costs. Fodor says, "the bottom line on urban growth is that it rarely pays its own way."

Myth 2: We have to grow to provide jobs. But there's no guarantee that new jobs will go to local folks. In fact they rarely do. If you compare the 25 fastest growing cities in the U.S. to the 25 slowest growing, you find no significant difference in unemployment rates. Says Fodor: "Creating more local jobs ends up attracting more people, who require more jobs."

Myth 3: We must stimulate and subsidize business growth to have good jobs. A "good business climate" is one with little regulation, low business taxes, and various public subsidies to business. A study of areas with good and bad business climates (as ranked by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the business press) showed that states with the best business ratings actually have lower growth in per capita incomes than those with the worst. Fodor: "This surprising outcome may be due to the emphasis placed by good-business-climate states on investing resources in businesses rather than directly in people."

Myth 4: If we try to limit growth, housing prices will shoot up. Sounds logical, but it isn't so. A 1992 study of 14 California cities, half with strong growth controls, half with none, showed no difference in average housing prices. Some of the cities with strong growth controls had the most affordable housing, because they had active low-cost housing programs. Fodor says the important factor in housing affordability is not so much house cost as income level, so development that provides mainly low-paying retail jobs makes housing unaffordable.

Myth 5: Environmental protection hurts the economy. According to a Bank of America study the economies of states with high environmental standards grew consistently faster than those with weak regulations. The Institute of Southern Studies ranked all states according to 20 indicators of economic prosperity (gold) and environmental health (green) and found that they rise and fall together. Vermont ranked 3rd on the gold scale and first on the green, while Louisiana ranked 50th on both.

Myth 6: Growth is inevitable. There are constitutional limits to the ability of any community to put walls around itself. But dozens of municipalities have capped their population size or rate of growth by legal regulations based on real environmental limits and the real costs of growth to the community.

Myth 7: If you don't like growth, you're a NIMBY (Not In My Backyard) or an ANTI (against everything) or a gangplank-puller (right after you get aboard).These accusations are meant more to shut people up than to examine their real motives. Says Fodor, "A NIMBY is more likely to be someone who cares enough about the future of his or her community to get out and protect it."

Myth 8: Most people don't support environmental protection. Polls and surveys have disproved this belief for decades; Fodor cites examples from Oregon, Los Angeles, Colorado, and the U.S. as a whole. The fraction of respondents who say environmental quality is more important than further economic growth almost always tops 70 percent.

Myth 9: We have to grow or die. This statement is tossed around lightly and often, but if you hold it still and look at it, you wonder what it means. Fodor points out, quoting several economic studies, that many kinds of growth cost more than the benefits they bring. So the more growth, the poorer we get. That kind of growth will kill us.

Myth 10: Vacant land is just going to waste. Studies from all over show that open land pays far more -- often twice as much -- in property taxes than it costs in services. Cows don't put their kids in school; trees don't put potholes in the roads. Open land absorbs floods, recharges aquifers, cleans the air, harbors wildlife, and measurably increases the value of property. We should pay it for to be there.

Myth 11: Beauty is no basis for policy. One of the saddest things about municipal meetings is their tendency to trivialize people who complain that a proposed development will be ugly. Dollars are not necessarily more real or important than beauty. In fact beauty can translate directly into dollars. For starters, undeveloped surroundings can add $100,000 to the price of a home.

Myth 12: Environmentalists are just another special interest. A developer who will directly profit from a project is a special interest. A citizen with no financial stake is fighting for the public interest, the long term, the good of the whole community.

Maybe one reason these myths are proclaimed so often and loudly is that they are so obviously doubtful. The only reason to keep repeating something over and over is to keep others from thinking about it. You don't have to keep telling people that the sun rises in the east.

Donella H. Meadows is director of the Sustainability Institute and an adjunct professor of environmental studies at Dartmouth College.


NYS Comptroller Releases Report: Open Space Provides Economic Benefits

Open space provides economic benefits that need to be identified and considered in land use decisions, according to a report recently released by State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli. Open space can provide a variety of public benefits, including storm water drainage and water management, DiNapoli said. Open spaces also provide a more direct economic benefit through tourism, agriculture and the forestry industry. All these benefits should be a factor in land use decisions from Montauk to Massena. Agriculture is among New York ’s largest and most vital industries, encompassing 25 percent of the states land and generating more than $4.5 billion for the states economy each year. In 2007, the income generated directly by farms, combined with income generated by agricultural support industries and by industries that process agricultural products, totaled $31.2 billion.

The study noted that open space contributes to the states economy by providing opportunities for outdoor recreational activities. DiNapoli also noted that open space often requires fewer municipal services than lands in other use and tend to generate more in municipal tax revenue. Open space helps control storm water runoff, preserves surface water quality and stream flows, and aids in the infiltration of surface water to replenish aquifers. When lands are converted to other uses, the natural benefits provided by open space often must be replaced through the construction of water treatment facilities and infrastructure to control storm water, all paid for through local tax revenue. A series of studies have found the preservation of open space to be a more economical way to address storm water requirements.

DiNapoli’s report recommends that New York State consider: (1) Allowing municipalities to establish community preservation funds; (2) Evaluating the adequacy of protections for lands providing benefits for Municipalities; (3) Improving state-level planning for open space to address long-term funding needs; (4) Improving the administration of funds for open space programs; and (5) Encouraging private land conservation. For a copy of the Economic Benefits of Open Space report, go to:Economic Benefits of Open Space Preservation


Open space shouldn't be an afterthought. That is what international planning expert Randall Arendt, author of Designing Open Space Subdivisions, believes. A New York Times article described his philosophy as "a good development...starts with what you don't develop." According to him, "you identify the open space first, then you plan around it."


Many Voters Agree to Raise Money for Green Space
by Jim Carlton (Wall Street Journal - 2003)

Voters in 16 states passed 64 of 77 local and state measures to raise about $1.2 billion to protect lands for parks and open space - often by overwhelming majority..."people want to protect their quality of life by protecting things that are special to them like views, farmland, and places for children to play."

One of the largest measures in the country was adopted in Republican-leaning Arapahoe County, Colo, where 54% of voters agreed to the first-ever local sales tax in order to raise $170 million for land aquisition and protection over the next decade.


Local Campaign in Goshen for Bond in 2003 stated: If land is gobbled up by developers, we will lose the quality of life and rural character we all love about our Town. We will also see our taxes and in particular school taxes, increase exponentially as more and more teachers will be hired, and more and more classrooms will be built and more and more buses will be purchased to accommodate the influx of new students. Our highway departments will be further strained and require more money to plow the snow and repair the roadways of the new subdivisions. Other departments and municipal agencies, such as fire, library and police, will be required to stretch their time and resources among the growing population. Only the purchase of open space or the development rights to that space, can stem the negative tax impact by slowing the rate of development. While it will be expensive to preserve the open space, it will not be as expensive as the cost of residential growth.

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