Land-Use Planning Goes Awry

June 13, 2002

Policy-Makers Fail To Coordinate Open Space With Growth Management

Inman News Features

A new independent research report concludes that public and private open-space protection efforts have increased dramatically in the last 10 years, but these programs haven?t been well coordinated with complementary policies designed to shape urban and metropolitan growth patterns.

The report, "Open Space Protection: Conservation Meets Growth Management" by William Fulton and Linda E. Hollis of Solimar Research Group, states that most open-space programs either have taken an opportunistic approach to land conservation or have used a systematic approach that revolves around the state?s interest in natural resources, not the impact of open space on the metropolitan environment.

Regardless of the approach, the growing connections between open-space protection, growth management and metropolitan growth patterns haven?t always been explicit in policy-making decisions.

"State open-space efforts range from those closely linked with a metropolitan growth strategy to those with virtually no linkage to metropolitan growth. In many cases, the actual implementation of the state open-space program has focused on rural land, much of it far from metropolitan areas. In other cases, including some states with state growth management laws, there is little overt policy connection between growth management and open space programs," the report states.

The researchers found 32 states established new open space programs or greatly expanded funding for existing open space programs in the last 10 years. Voters passed 86 of 115 state and local open space spending measures on ballots in November, and those measures provided more than $1.2 billion in public funds for open space protection efforts. California voters in March approved a $2.6 billion bond issue for parks and open space, according to the report.

The new programs and additional funds reflect the public?s interest in protecting some land from urban development, thus positioning open-space protection as "a back-door approach to urban containment" But this "covert agenda does not always translate into an overt policy connection," the authors state.

Open space is protected through a complex and decentralized system that tends to be "reactive and hard to assess," according to the report. Much open-space acquisition results from public-private partnerships and the decentralized system "tends to encourage reactive or ad-hoc open space protection at the local level and, in many cases, large-scale acquisitions based on different strategic objectives."

The authors note that "working landscapes" (i.e., farms, ranches and some extraction efforts) often are viewed as a way to create relief from urban development, but these activities are "under considerable economic pressure." Public funds are being used to pay private landowners to maintain rural land uses rather than convert the land to more lucrative urban uses. Such payments are cheaper than purchasing the land, but the public may be skeptical about devoting tax resources to such efforts and there may be an emerging conflict between the political motivation for such preservation and the economic demands of agriculture and ranching, according to the report.

The authors point to seven states as being "national leaders" in open space acquisition and in some cases state-level growth management programs: California, Colorado, Florida, Maryland, New Jersey, New York and Wisconsin. Those states for the most part are populous, have large urban populations, have considerable open space resources near big metropolitan areas, and use state bonds and real estate transfer taxes to finance open-space programs.

The report discusses Oregon, Maryland, New Jersey and Florida as examples of new strong growth management states, Colorado and Arizona as examples of other states making key efforts to connect growth and open space efforts, California and Washington as examples of states where resource protection meets metropolitan growth, Georgia, Pennsylvania and Ohio as examples of emerging states' approaches to open-space protection and New England as an example of a region linking open-space protection to housing and historic preservation.

Sterling Forest in metropolitan New York, Sonoma County in California and the Piney Run Rural Legacy Area in metropolitan Baltimore are cited as examples of various open-space and growth management situations at the local level. An appendix to the report provides additional state-by-state comments and information resources.

Solimar conducts research and policy analysis on land-use and related issues. The open-space research was conducted for The Brookings Institution Center on Urban and Metropolitan Policy.

Copyright: Inman News Service

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