Open Space – Open for Business

There was a guest opinion in the October 28th edition of the Courier-Times about the Upper Makefield open space program.

I don’t have a problem with most of the article, until it nears then end, where it says:

While we accessed county and state preservation money whenever we could, it still became imperative that the township stretch its open space dollars. Given the inherent value of reserved building rights, one of the solutions was to allow a limited number of building envelopes while preserving the bulk of the property. A building envelope was never permitted in a manner that compromised the integrity and goals of the Open Space Program.

This takes the volunteer board from evaluating property for its value to the township as preserved land, to potentially making judgments about its market value.  To allow “building envelopes” automatically opens up questions about how such properties were chosen, how many “envelopes” were allowed, the value of the “envelopes”, etc.  No doubt it was seen as a clever way to obtain land when the referendum dollar amount was inadequate, but it is naive to believe that no one will raise their eyebrows or ask a question, especially if even one well-connected person benefits.

This was a volunteer board, not a group of elected officials.  Mr. Duffy and Ms. Hirst may be “disheartened” that their actions would ever be questioned, but I don’t think the original referendum anticipated township monies going into buying and selling real estate.  Simply saying that no deal involved favoritism may – surprise! – not be enough.

When volunteers, or elected people, go beyond their mandate, (especially when millions of dollars are involved), they run a risk, and it shouldn’t be unexpected when people look askance at those actions.  If they don’t like the questions, they should be clearer with the public about the different kinds of deals they want to make, and do so before the ink goes on.

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2 responses to this post.

  1. delta, I personally didn’t have a problem with that particular bit in the opinion piece. Land value increases should have been expected, and Hirst and Duffy didn’t say they were surprised by that. And sooner or later the open space money would run out anyway. It’s the actions taken after the funds became insufficient, and especially the huffiness that this shouldn’t be questioned, that bothers me (and others too).

    It would be so heartening to hear someone respond with a less belligerent and defensive attitude. If people have concerns about something (especially a multi-million dollar something), don’t immediately take the tack that they’re all ungrateful and have base motives. Not helpful! There was no “imperative” about stretching the open space funds, it was a choice to do at least one unusual deal that, to some of us helping pay the freight, sounds murky.

    Reply

  2. Posted by delta on November 6, 2011 at 6:45 pm

    I like those comments. But how can you like the preceding paragraphs that deal with the history. That as they progressed with the open space program, land prices tripled.

    Well DUH!!!! When you create demand, prices increase.

    Your observations that the program put the township in a developer/realtor role is spot on.

    Reply

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