photo by Rameshwar Das
East Hampton Town has been purchasing open space since development has threatened our rural character and visions of western Long Island were promised by those that thought suburbia was not a dirty word. Fortunately, East Hampton is blessed with activists and elected officials who understand the dynamics and economics of preserving open space for the future.
The value of open space to the economy of east Hampton can not be underestimated. Our tourist based and second homeowner livelihoods depend on the ability of East Hampton officials to continue to purchase lands and development rights that ensure our ability to attract and maintain an economy that provides jobs, but requires fewer demands on infrastructure and development. The American landscape is littered with once thriving tourist towns and summer places that have “seen better days.” The encroachment of suburbia and the obliteration of the soul of special destinations have rendered once sought out towns to be abandoned in search of more beautiful places. Faced with falling property values, these once prosperous villages must raise taxes. And, so begins the cycle of elected officials believing that increasing their tax base will solve their problems when in reality the more dense the population the greater the need for services and infrastructure to accommodate the growing community and a continuation of increasing taxes to meet new demands.
It is a vicious cycle that needs to be addressed before the obliteration of the landscape takes place, because once a piece of property has been developed it is not likely that it will ever be returned to its natural state. Open space does not demand services from the municipality and studies have shown positive economic value in preserving open space. How does this happen? Residential development costs the tax payer more in education and public services then is generated in tax revenue. Even commercial property may not provide anticipated taxes over time.
In New Jersey, a land use planning study of Mansfield Township showed that for every $1.00 in collected taxes for a new residential property, $1.48 was required in services. In that same study farmland cost $0.27 for services.
The initial cost of buying open space is usually the debt service required on the loan. That cost to the municipality will be extinguished when the loan is repaid, generally 20 years. Residential development will always cost the local government more in needed services then it generates in taxes.
Many believe that the highest and best tax rates are for commercial properties. But, a study in Morris County New Jersey of 39 towns that added commercial properties reported that commercial additions failed to produce lower taxes for residential owners for any of the 39 towns. Dependence on property taxes for education and municipal services forces communities to chase these tax dollars in the belief that development will increase their revenues. And, while development may increase municipal revenues, it increases costs that are higher then the revenues collected. The tax chase can result in the consumption of land and the destruction of towns and hamlets. A study by the Vermont League of Cities and Towns showed that Vermont property taxes were the highest in towns with the most commercial and industrial developments.
The benefits of acquiring open space can be as simply as maintaining the beauty of a town. But, open space preservation does so much more for the community. When natural systems such as wetlands and flood prone areas are spared from development these systems provide the best water filter and groundwater recharge areas for our drinking water. In turn, the preservation of these systems reduces the need for public construction of drainage, flood protection, and water treatment plants that are likely to match or even exceed the cost of preserving these same lands. It has also been documented that communities with a commitment to open space preservation have been issued better bond rates.
Open space also provides for biologically diverse ecosystems. Tourism is enhanced by showcasing these natural places that attract tourists and tourist dollars. A report from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 2003 states that for each $1.00 spent on wildlife expenditures a $1.49 of economic activity was realized.
Many studies have reported that property values near open space or natural areas increase. East Hampton properties are a testament to that fact.
Continuing the tradition in East Hampton of buying and preserving open space and development rights has benefited all east Hampton residents. This commitment enhances our quality of life, protects our rural character, protects our water supply, wetlands, and surface waters, and helps maintain a low tax rate and high property values.