|Date:||Tue, 25 May 1999 15:37:38 -0700 (PDT)|
|Subject:||Re: "The Economic Benefits of Open Space"|
Emery-- Thanks for your comment, and I agree with your point. When I made my original comment, it was specifically directed at the initial question, which seemed to me to be narrower than the one currently being discussed -- the fact that "conservation" choices (especially open space) lead to a particular (economic) benefit for the nearby landowners. Unlike "decisions about how to use brownlands" (which encompass a much broader list of issues and influences) the questions of open-space preservation (and creation) are almost entirely financial. If the government forces non-agricultural open-space dedication, some compensation is nearly always required (anything from conditional land-use permits and development agreements to direct payments.) Relatively rarely these days are government funds sufficient to purchase all the lands that are necessary to create the optimal mix of open-space and development. In this context, various methods of encouraging self-interest (ie tax benefits, etc.) have been used to some good effect in the past (Williamson Act, etc. as well as the work of the Nature Conservancy in securing easements which, in effect, guarantee lower assessments for the burdened, lands, etc.) To the extent that open-space dedication is an objective of value, then, consideration of this particular type of financial benefits is essential. Connecting this discussion to brownlands, the group has moved to a related area, land-use choices in economically depressed areas. (Here I am responding more generally to comments made under this subject heading in the last few days.) There are numerous issue to be considered in this area, all of which are in some way connected with "environmental justice" (although not all come within the specific provisions of recent and proposed environmental justice legislation and other documents.) Certainly, where brownfields redevelopment is undertaken under traditional types of redevelopment authority (local governmental group acquires depressed lands and redevelops them), the particular issues that are now being discussed by the group are entirely relevant. The tendency to give basketball courts and parks to low-income neighborhoods as some kind of "bread and circuses" with some generalized idea of pacification is both demeaning and antithetical to any real progress for these areas and their residents. That these options are offered as an ALTERNATIVE to development, however, I question, at least slightly, for several reasons. First, the available activities for local redevelopment agencies are sometimes limited, and there can be real problems in finding and coming to terms with companies willing to take the initial steps into development of these regions. Parks and basketball courts, at least, offer a direct benefit that is within the capability of local governmental groups to achieve. Moreover, if maintained, its possible that such public areas may enhance the attractiveness of the region for future development (I don't know this, of course, it merely sounds possible to me.) Finally, of course, if public moneys are available, and the choices are (1) remediate contamination and convert the area to a park; or (2) use the money elsewhere, I suspect most of us, in any socioeconomic situation would prefer the benefit of remediation (non-suspect water sources, less danger for our children, etc.) over the permanent maintenance of the status quo. This brings us to the fact that, as far as I can tell, the programs for brownlands "redevelopment" are not intended solely for governmental action. I was under the impression that brownfields program was designed to aid persons buried under unprofitably contaminated property, and hoping/needing to remedy and develop the site. To some extent, these are private property (or property rights) problems, and decisions about the potential uses of these lands once sufficiently remedied, are bound by the same restrictions as other land use decisions, including the requirement of compensation to owners whose lands are rendered unusable by land-use choices. Hence there is little incentive or financial ability for government to simply decide that such lands are to be "park and open space." But, in both situations, I think a flat preference for either type of use (conservation or development) is probably inappropriate. Governments can (and often do) require that some portion of the land (or other suitable land) be dedicated to public purposes in exchange for development permits and other government action necessary in order for commercial development to go forward. And I expect that a significant number of brownlands redevelopment projects are designed to accord with area-wide planning, so that both needs (development and conservation/openspace) are addressed. I see nothing wrong with conditioning develoopment on the dedication of a portion of the site for a park or other local benefit, even (or especially) in a low-income or depressed area. Nor do I see these issues as mutually exclusive. I can't resist tossing in 2 cents, on other point that is coming up in this discussion -- the extent of local control over development. To some degree, I agree that local authorities, and through them the local constituencies, hold this power. However, of course, there is a large body of law from the 60's and 70's that says that regional issues and needs cannot be neglected by local bodies in their land-related decision-making processes. These laws and principles were originally developed to root out exclusive zoning practices and the development of "restricted communities", but their principles are more generally stated, and it would seem to have equal application here. Tomme R. Young UN Legal Consultant on Environmental and Conservation Legislation
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