Voters across the nation overwhelmingly approved ballot measures to fund open space protection this year, according to the Land Trust Alliance.
The alliance found that 162 of 204 ballot questions passed, providing more than $7 billion for land conservation. The group was still tracking the results of 10 measures before voters in November.
In most cases, voters approved tax increases to pay for land conservation.
The group said the results show continued voter support for open space protection. In 1999, voters passed 90 percent of 102 referenda, authorizing more than $1.8 billion in local taxing authority for bonds for open space protection. In 1998, voters passed 84 percent of 148 measures across the country, providing about $8.3 billion for land protection.
“Clearly, people are tremendously concerned about what their communities will look like in the future, and they are very willing to invest their tax money to protect parks, farms, forest and fields,” said Russ Shay, LTA public policy director.
Voters were faced with several land initiatives in the watershed:
- In Fairfax, VA, voters approved a measure dedicating up to 5 mills of the property tax for the acquisition of park lands and recreation.
- In Henrico, VA, a bond measure was approved providing $16 million for park land acquisition and recreation.
- In Louden County, VA, a $7.8 billion bond issue for park acquisition and development was defeated.
- In Baltimore County, MD, voters approved a two-year increase in property taxes for farmland and open space preservation.
About a dozen land preservation measures passed in Pennsylvania, mainly in the Philadelphia suburbs.
Nationwide, major statewide land use initiatives were defeated in both Colorado and Arizona.
In Arizona, Proposition 202, a Sierra Club-backed measure that would have established voter-approved growth boundaries around urban areas, lost by a 2-1 margin. Voters also narrowly defeated Proposition 100, which would have set aside up to 270,000 acres of state trust lands for preservation.
In Colorado, voters rejected by a greater than 2-1 margin a proposal that would have required counties and cities with populations of more than 25,000 to prepare maps of future growth areas and then submit them for voter approval. The measure had enjoyed 78 percent support in June, until opponents launched a $5.7 million barrage of critical television and radio ads.
Meanwhile, in Oregon, some of the state’s growth management and other environmental protection measures could be jeopardized by the narrow victory of a ballot initiative requiring that landowners be paid for any losses in the value of their property caused by state or local regulations.
Oregon has been a national leader with laws requiring the preservation of farm and forest land, limiting urban sprawl, and keeping beaches open to the public, but those may be jeopardized by Measure 7.
One big fight will be over urban growth boundaries, which control housing density and services such as sewers and water, said Jeffrey Lamb of Oregon Communities for a Voice in Annexation. Anyone with property outside an urban growth boundary could argue they suffered a loss for lack of municipal services.
Measure 7 critics — ranging from the governor to 1,000 Friends of Oregon — warned that many of the pillars of life in Oregon are now in doubt: Public access to beaches, restrictions on logging, saving salmon, controlling urban sprawl, the protection of farm and forest land and even local zoning.
“It does not overturn our land use laws or our environmental laws,” Gov. John Kitzhaber said. “But it raises serious questions about the extent to which we can enforce them.”