Open Space Institute Announces Sprawl Study
Report Finds Capital Region Not Prepared for Growth

 

New York, NY - February 15, 2005 - Local governments in New York's Capital District are not prepared to handle the heavy toll of sprawl, says a new study by the Open Space Institute and the Center for Policy Research at the University at Albany. Copies of the report are available online and upon request. Highlights of the report were unveiled at a press conference on February 18th at the Phillipinkill Preserve in Bethlehem.

The study, Open Space for Tomorrow indicates that most local governments in the region do not have the necessary tools or resources to handle sprawl. “Our airports are thriving, tech companies are moving in, national sporting events are staged here, and the universities are flourishing. But the natural beauty and open spaces that make the Capital Region an attractive destination are slipping away,” said Joe Martens, president of the Open Space Institute. “Growth in the Capital Region is not the problem. However, growth that is unplanned will result in suburban sprawl and the replacement of natural areas with residential subdivisions and big-box development,” Martens said. “Sprawl and the loss of open space are leading to increased traffic congestion, worsening air quality, the disappearance of productive farmland and the loss of wetlands, which naturally filter and purify the water we drink.”

Funded by the Malcolm Gordon Charitable Trust, the one-year study surveyed the 79 local governments in the four counties of Albany, Rensselaer, Saratoga and Schenectady. Twenty-nine communities, or 37 percent, responded to the survey, a statistically valid response. Overall, the results indicate that, because of insufficient resources, communities are too busy reacting to proposed development to adequately plan for future growth.

Some key findings of Open Space for Tomorrow:

  • Only 17 percent of responding communities identified specific open space areas they believe are important to protect;
  • 21 percent of communities identified important open space areas that have been lost to development since 1980.
  • Just 16 percent of communities have planners who handle long-range planning;
  • Over 40 communities lack either a comprehensive plan or zoning, and;
  • 28 percent of communities share open space planning initiatives with neighboring communities or land trusts.

On a positive note, 83 percent of responding communities currently use one or more tools to protect open space. And 59 percent of communities expressed an interest in having access to a course on community planning and local land use law in New York. “Information sharing is a critical first step,” noted Martens. “Communities will succeed if they work together in a broad regional framework, developing common zoning and comprehensive plans and availing themselves of county planning offices, local environmental management councils, the Capital District Regional Planning Commission, and the Department of State's Local Waterfront Revitalization Program (LWRP). They can also join the planning 'compact' offered by the Hudson River Valley Greenway, a state regional planning program,” continued Martens.

Local governments shouldn't be expected to shoulder the responsibility of planning on their own, the report concludes. Open Space for Tomorrow urges the State of New York to financially support county and local planning efforts, noting that the Greenway now offers such assistance and the Governor's budget proposal includes $500,000 for implementing the Quality Communities Program. The study also urges local governments and environmental organizations to view “Home Rule” New York's legal framework that leaves it up to local governments to guide their own futures as a critical mechanism that planners can put to positive use.

“We should all thank OSI for its timely new report, Open Space for Tomorrow. The report is particularly valuable for communities, such as Bethlehem and Colonie, that are in the process of creating comprehensive plans,” said Albany County Land Conservancy President Dan Driscoll. “It makes clear the pressing need to protect open space as a way to improve the quality of life for those who live and work in the Albany region. This is particularly important as we welcome more and more high-tech firms to the region. The Land Conservancy has 12 properties that provide recreation and protect water quality, and we stand ready to partner with New York State agencies, local municipalities, and businesses to make the greater Albany region an even better place to live and to work.”

“Up and down the Hudson Valley, sprawl is spreading like wild fire, and it's moving toward the Capital Region. Scenic Hudson's planning experts are tracking 27 waterfront proposals for a staggering 11,000 residential units in 15 communities in the Hudson Valley. Citizens want well-planned development that protects our health and quality of life while creating strong, lasting business opportunities. Together we must make our Hudson River the centerpiece of a beautiful, uplifting place to live and an engine of economic development,” said Ned Sullivan, president of Scenic Hudson.

“Across New York, poorly planned development is devouring our forests and working farms at an alarming rate,” said Environmental Advocates of New York Executive Director Rob Moore. “This is a pattern that is bad for air and water quality, and bad for local economies. Open Space for Tomorrow helps identify a major problem and points toward positive solutions that will give local governments and private citizens some of the tools we need to preserve what makes this region special.”

Open Space for Tomorrow provides extensive background information gleaned from other reports in order to address a key survey finding that local governments are eager to learn more but aren't sure where to turn. “Our intent is to help communities understand the direct and indirect impacts of sprawl as well as the steps they can take to prevent it,” said Martens. As noted in the report: 70,000 acres of farmland and 3,000 acres of wetlands have been lost in the past 25 years. “There are numerous threats to the working farms that grace the Capital District, including high property taxes, overseas competition, rising and falling commodity prices and the sheer beauty of rural landscapes that makes them perfect candidates for housing lots,” said Martens. “Farmers are getting priced out of the market and the rural character of the Region is quickly eroding. As a result, the food we put on our tables is less fresh because it is grown on farms hundreds of miles away.” Other impacts of sprawl include soaring local property taxes and increased traffic congestion, which have helped earn the region federal air quality non-attainment status for ozone (smog) under the Clean Air Act.

Open Space for Tomorrow was prepared for the Open Space Institute by Katherine Daniels, a Senior Planner with the New York Planning Federation and adjunct professor at the University at Albany and David S. Sampson, an attorney and Research Scholar at the Center for Policy Research. The entire report is available online at http://www.osiny.org/.

Click here to view a fact sheet about the Open Space Institute's Capital Region Land Protection Program.



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