CYNICS MAY THINK BUILDERS WILL always oppose open-space measures, but a closer look reveals that sometimes builders work in concert with local officials to equitably assign land for development while preserving open space and farmland.
The reality is that builders have to play ball with local governments since roughly 80 percent of the open-space bonds sent to voters pass. The trend nationally, according to advocacy group The Trust for Public Land, is that most open-space initiatives are passed at the county level.
In last November's election, voters approved $2.9 billion worth of open-space funds, and 40 of the 51 measures on the ballot at the county level passed. In contrast, in the 2000 presidential election, voters at the county level approved $1.4 billion worth of open-space funds, and 27 of 44 county initiatives passed.
“Builders tend to support open-space measures because they focus on quality-of-life issues and preserve property values,” says Ernest Cook, director of The Trust for Public Land's conservation finance program.
“These measures are as popular in Bush Country as they are in Kerry Country,” Cook adds. “In fact, some of the measures take place in more Republican-leaning areas.”
Clayton Traylor, the NAHB's senior staff vice president for state and local political operations, says builders will, however, always work to defeat a measure if they perceive it's just a smoke screen for environmentalists and no-growth advocates.
“If you look closely at the 51 measures that went before counties last year, builders were agnostic on a majority of [them],” says Traylor. “These measures always sell better as a political proposition when there's a well-understood connection between how the money is raised and how it's spent,” Traylor adds.
A good example of a program builders supported is in Gwinnett County, Ga., where, last November, 65 percent of the voters passed a $550 million extension of the county's 1 percent Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax. The measure, which includes $85 million for open space, also provides funds for public parks, libraries, fire stations, police precincts, and transportation projects.
“The public loves it,” says Mark King, owner of Hearthstone Group, a custom home builder in Lawrenceville, Ga. “It's a no-brainer for builders because it enhances the area and makes the county a desirable place to be,” explains King, adding that the comprehensive nature of the tax also helps the county avoid impact fees.
Builders were also OK with a $26 million bond measure to protect drinking water and watershed lands that passed last November in Wake County, N.C.. Seventy-five percent of the voters approved the measure, which Ken Kirby, director of regulatory affairs for the Raleigh-Wake County HBA, says is a “negligible amount of money.”
An example of a proposal builders fought is the Greenbelt program in Ann Arbor, Mich. Through the measure, which passed by a 2-to-1 margin in 2003, the city plans to raise roughly $84 million over 30 years to preserve more than 7,000 acres of open space in and around Ann Arbor. Builders fought hard to defeat the measure and lost, says Maureen Sloan, CEO of the Washtenaw County HBA in the Ann Arbor area.
“We weren't even brought to the table,” says Sloan, who adds that land costs are escalating around Ann Arbor because developers are now competing against the city.
Learn more about markets featured in this article: Atlanta, GA.