Friends of the Eagan Core Greenway

Value of Open Space is Affirmed

Report: Many Would Pay for Proximity

St. Paul Pioneer Press
Friday, November 11, 2005

by Meggen Lindsay

Nearly two-thirds of Twin Cities residents would pay between 10 percent and 25 percent more for a home within walking distance of open space.

And the economic value of such areas is higher than previously thought, according to a report released Thursday by the nonprofit Embrace Open Space campaign.

The report, "The Economic Value of Open Space," reinforces the idea that natural land next to residential neighborhoods often increases property and tax values. In addition, instead of subdivisions with large lots, it may be that higher-density developments with shared open space - like parks, trails and lakes - are more valuable.

"The report confirms what a number of people have intuitively recognized: There is a financial value to open space," said Al Singer, manager of Dakota County's Farmland and Natural Area Program. "But sometimes it's not been as easy to quantify."

The report also included the results of an August public opinion survey of Twin Citians by Minneapolis-based Decision Resources Ltd.

The survey concluded that 70 percent of metro residents would support a $30-per-year property tax hike to raise funds for purchasing, restoring and maintaining natural areas in their county.

"A community that's all open space is not yet a community. It's a farm or a forest. As communities grow, the question becomes one of balance," said Paul Anton, an economist with St. Paul-based Wilder Research who authored the study.

"We want those types of decisions to be thought about in the long term. Communities that have a more complete understanding of the fiscal implications of open space will be better equipped to set priorities and strike that balance," he said.

Thursday's report, presented at a conference of municipal and regional planners, comes on the heels of prominent open space referendums. In fast-growing Woodbury, voters Tuesday overwhelmingly approved a $9 million initiative to preserve open space. In Eden Prairie, three of four park bond proposals passed.

The trend to save land and add recreation is growing across the region - particularly in the outlying suburbs.

The Metropolitan Council and the McKnight Foundation held a regional planning conference in October where officials from many smaller communities talked about the difficulties of long-range land-use planning without the resources. Smaller cities often can't afford to hire planners and only have time to focus on the cost of the property and the tax dollars that won't be collected if the land is left undeveloped, Anton said. Instead, he said, they need to look at future benefits.

The report - with real-life examples - gives communities a framework to make good land-use decisions, said Ann Beckman, a regional planner with the Met Council. She likened it to a how-to guide for planners.

"This report is an important and user-friendly tool that we can use to help local governments answer questions about the value of open space," she said.

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