Undeveloped space in the Hudson Valley provides billions of dollars in value through filtering water, preventing flooding, attracting tourists and providing food, according to a recent study of the region.
A report released Aug. 15 by the Regional Plan Association (RPA), in collaboration with SUNY New Paltz, tried to asses the value of open space in Putnam, Dutchess, Orange and Ulster counties. The researchers placed the value of the protected lands at more than $3.5 billion, considering what municipalities would otherwise spend to provide similar services.
The report, “Adding Value: Open Space Conservation in the Mid-Hudson Valley,” is part of the urban advocacy organization’s Fourth Regional Plan. The report focused on a region it said is rich in open space and natural resources.
“Nowhere in the New York metropolitan region have land conservation efforts been as successful over the last century as in the Hudson Valley, arguably the birthplace of the modern environmental movement,” the report said in its opening.
The study looked at the economic and social benefits of land conservation at a time when it said land trusts have faced scrutiny for their impact on local tax bases.
The report found that two-thirds of open space in the four counties is not protected and, therefore, at risk of development.
“We will continue to see increased development pressure in our region that will impact the quality of our land, air and water,” said KT Tobin, the lead researcher on the project from SUNY New Paltz. “If we are to continue to benefit from open space and ensure future lands are protected, we need to raise awareness of its substantial value.”
Open spaces boost the four-county area’s tourism economy and provide $209 million worth of food and agricultural products each year, the study found.
One way a local government can conserve open space is through a referendum. Residents can vote on whether to allow a municipality to borrow funds or institute a real estate tax in order to purchase parcels of land or development rights.
Voters in the four counties authorized local funds for land preservation a dozen times out of 14 total referendum votes between 2000 and 2008, according to the study. But there have been no new measures on the ballot since then.
In addition to planning at the county level, the report found that 23 percent of local governments in the four-county region have open space plans. About 56 percent of the municipalities include at least some mention of open space in their policies or laws.
The RPA projected the four-county region will grow about 13 percent by 2040, with more than 110,000 new residents arriving there in that time. Through proper planning, the report argued, the growth could focus in already developed places and allow the region to protect its open space.
The reports recommendations included the following:
- Track indicators of open space value;
- Adopt smart growth policies that concentrate growth in downtowns and town centers;
- Revise the tax cap formula to remove disincentives for municipalities to bond for open space protection;
- Require annual state comptroller reporting of newly adopted tax exemptions and their impact; and
- Adopt and implement a consistent, systematic state policy regarding payments made to localities to relieve their burden of both undeveloped and developed exempt properties.
View the full report here.