Open space, open wallet

Open space, open wallet
: Where I live, open space purchases by the town, county, and state are often a waste and often a scam.

They raise lots of taxes on a separate levy to support a cause everybody supports — open space; I, too, love a meadow carpeted with waving grasses. But then they use it to buy property next to the interstate (who cares if that gets developed?) or property that’s undevelopable anyway or property that just happens to back up to the house of a local government official. Almost none of this is turned into parkland the public and taxpayers can enjoy; it just sits there, sometimes derelict, often gathering trash, and never producing tax revenue. It’s not all a crock but a helluva lot of it is. Two out of three purchases in my neighborhood were a waste of money.

And it’s done in the service of a political truism that development is bad (the development that built the house you live in was fine but the development that brings in a new neighbor, well, that’s a different matter).

This is a damned good story I’ve never seen done.

This morning, I read a good bit of reporting in the Washington Post story about the Nature Conservancy and a scam that uses yet more tax dollars to support the cause open space while also helping rich people build big houses.

Here’s how it works: The Conservancy buys a juicy piece of property, purportedly to save it from devil developers, for $2.1 million. It then sells it to a rich donor — with some restrictions on the use of the property but with no limits on building a huge, private home — who pays only $500,000 for the property because the donor also contributes $1.6 million to the Conservancy — which is a big tax deducation for the donor, which means that we the taxpayers subsidized this deal to the tune of almost $800,000 (and because there’s a restriction on the use of the land, the assessment is reduced and with it the local property taxes: an ongoing subsidy).

The sacred cow of open space hides many a scam and many a good story.