A local real estate developer was recently quoted in The Buffalo News suggesting that Clarence’s open space and farmland preservation program, known as the Greenprint, has contributed to Clarence’s recent school budget debate. His premise is that limiting growth reduces revenues and forces tax increases. That idea, however sincerely held, is contradicted by both logic and fact.
In 2002, Clarence voters overwhelmingly approved the Greenprint, a $12.5 million bond resolution to provide funding for the purchase and preservation of open space and farmland in the town. Over the last 11 years, $6.8 million has been used to protect 1,236 acres of meadows, forests, wildlife habitat, scenic views and working farms.
Few would argue that protecting these places, like Greg’s U-Pick Berry Farm and the oak savannah on Sheridan Drive – one of only four oak savannahs in all of New York State – does not enhance the quality of life, health and beauty of Clarence, making it a more attractive place to live.
These benefits alone are enough to confirm the value of Clarence’s visionary Greenprint program, but can the Greenprint also be good for the economy and tax base? In short, yes.
Consider numerous studies, including a 2007 Trust for Public Land Report, which concluded that property values increase with proximity to protected open spaces. Also, in a 2009 article by the National Association of Realtors, the senior vice president of public policy for the Florida Association of Realtors said that “greenspace and conservation land enhances the value of neighboring properties.”
Closer to home, a study was conducted last year by the Town of Clarence. After 10 years of experience with the Greenprint and prior to renewing it, the study revealed an average increase of 15 percent in the sale price of properties adjacent to preserved open space. In fact, countywide data shows the average appreciation rate of properties in Clarence after adoption of this program to have been five times that of comparable towns in the region.
Moreover, Clarence’s tax rate is now 30 percent lower than in comparable communities in the area. This should surprise no one. Basic economics and common sense tell us that when the value of property rises, tax revenues increase, allowing tax rates to be held steady or reduced. This is what Clarence has been able to do.
Additional tax savings are realized as open space is protected, because the cost of providing public services to new residential developments is reduced. In that regard, a highly respected League of Women Voters study noted that the cost of providing public services to residential development, particularly low-density development away from municipal centers, greatly exceeds the tax revenues generated by those residences.
Thus, as uncontrolled development expands, additional financial demands are imposed upon taxpayers. One need only look to adjacent towns to see declining property values and rising tax rates, the results of the idea that more development improves a town’s financial condition.
Preserving open space provides other economic advantages also ignored by the quoted developer. For example, ecological services such as clean water and flood control – think dry basements – are provided at lower costs with protected open space than with engineered infrastructure. Research from the University of Vermont valued such eco-services at more than $13,000 per acre annually.
The Greenprint has produced another unintended but welcome consequence – Clarence’s municipal bond rating was raised in part because of the Greenprint. This will continue to reduce the cost of public projects, resulting in further savings to Clarence taxpayers.
Given these facts and Clarence’s actual experience, it is clear that the Greenprint is paying for itself. Covering every inch of greenspace with concrete and asphalt not only destroys a town’s quality of life, it makes no economic sense. It is time for all municipal leaders to re-examine the fallacy that more development is preferable to smart growth and appropriate open space and farmland preservation.
Open space and farmland preservation in Clarence is not only about the quality of life and the environment; it’s about the bottom line.
Michael B. Powers is a member of the Clarence Recreation Advisory Committee. Nancy Smith is executive director of the Western New York Land Conservancy.