Question: I have heard that the open space program quite frequently uses conservation easements that both protect property and keep tax revenue up. How does that work?
Answer: Conservation easements are a way of preserving open space while allowing continued agricultural use. The state’s open space statute allows for that flexibility. The Township program has frequently used conservation easements. In addition to protecting open space and farms, it allows the community to continue to receive property taxes from the protected property.
In addition, conservation easements cost less than buying property outright, so in the right situations the Township can get more benefit for dollars spent.
Question: So, on the properties that the Township owns outright but rents out for agricultural uses, how do the taxes work?
Answer: The Township charges rent to the farmer for those properties. The rent is more than sufficient to pay the taxes on the land. Those properties remain on the tax rolls.
Question: Does the Township pursue money from any state or federal programs for open space preservation?
Answer: Yes, the Township has in the past and will continue in the future to apply for open space grants as they are available. So far these grants all require local funds in addition to any grant money. For example, on the recent purchase of a conservation easement on the Wolfe property, 50% of the cost was covered by a USDA grant. When available these grant programs are a great way to extend the local dollars.
Question: What is the goal of the open space program?
Answer: The goal of the open space levy is to acquire open space for “the purposes of protecting and preserving the natural, scenic, open, or wooded condition of the land, water, or wetlands against modification or encroachment resulting from occupation, development, or other use.” (See ORC 5705.19(HH)).
Question: What are some of the side benefits of preserving open space?
Answer: Preserving open space helps in a number of ways. Farm land consumes relatively few local tax resources. When converted to a residential development, the land suddenly requires more community resources. Unfortunately residential development does not tend to throw off sufficient increased tax revenue to cover the increased costs of providing those resources. This means those increased costs have to be covered in some other manner. Translation: increased taxes for the other taxpayers in the community.
Question: What about commercial development? Can’t that help the taxpayers?
Answer: Yes, absolutely. Some commercial development, for example, offices, can be extremely helpful in sharing the taxpayer’s load. Certain other businesses can be detrimental due to their significant traffic load on area streets and their relatively low tax payments, etc.
The tax benefits of good commercial development is one reason why the open space program tries to avoid acquiring spaces that are highly suitable for office and other relatively beneficial commercial uses. This is one of the ways in which the trustees are working to improve the sustainability of the overall community.
Question: So the open space program does not want to acquire all the open space?
Answer: That’s right. The benefits of the open space program help to make Granville a very desirable community. But acquiring all open space would, in addition to being impossible, not be desirable. Sustainability requires balanced development. The community is employing a variety of tools such as zoning to try to direct development in the most positive way possible.
Question: Doesn’t the Township’s “five acre zoning” accomplish everything open space purchases do?
Answer: Unfortunately no. Despite the Township’s “five acre zoning,” open spaces can still be lost to residential development. Annexation to a neighboring community can quickly change the zoning to allow many more dwelling units per acre.
In addition, relying solely on “five acre zoning” can be quickly reversed by a change in the zoning ordinance or its enforcement. As development continues to expand out from Columbus, this will be an increasing area of risk. Without dedicated open space, even areas built out with five acres per house can be redeveloped at a higher density.
Question: I just moved here from community Z. When I first bought property in Z it was great. But then rapid development hit Z and we became swamped by new houses everywhere. Property values dropped. Taxes went up. Traffic slowed to a standstill. Other community resources became tapped out and it became a mess. Then property values dropped further. That’s actually why I moved to Granville. I think the open space program is a great idea. Why doesn’t every community have an open space program?
Answer: Sometimes it is hard to see the future. Granville has had the benefit of seeing many Columbus suburbs very negatively impacted by the typical over-development that occurs.
But there is another factor. Granville is not an accident that just happened to end up this way. Granville traditionally has been a community where careful planning was valued. From the initial planning back in Granville, Massachusetts, for schools, churches, and houses and farmland for the settlers, to the formal comprehensive planning process that took hold in the middle of the 20th century, careful planning has been seen to provide the best results.
Question: Do conservation easements protect the land in perpetuity?
Answer: Yes. The specifics of the easements vary depending on negotiations with the seller of the property. For example, sometimes the seller will retain the right to build a house at a given location on the property (perhaps for a child should the child want to live on the family farm).
Question: The township has acquired some open space. What open space is the township looking to acquire in the future? How does the Comprehensive Plan relate to open space acquisition? For that matter, what is a comprehensive plan and who creates one?
Answer: The township is guided in many ways, including in open space acquisition, by the mandates of the comprehensive plan. Comprehensive plans are provided for by the Ohio Revised Code. The purpose of the comprehensive planning process includes incorporating community values and priorities into the overall planning process. The completed plan then guides township trustees, village council, and other governmental bodies, providing a map, so to speak, to the goals of the community. This helps make certain that over time the community evolves in the direction the community desires rather than becoming dependent on the passing whims of a given council or board of trustees. When done well, the comprehensive planning process is a community grassroots process rather than a governmental office on down specification process. Granville has a strong history of being able to preserve that grassroots on up process.
The comprehensive plans over the years have been quite consistent in the key goals to guide future land uses. As summarized by the 2012 Comprehensive Plan, goals include maintaining rural character and preserving small town character. Under those general goals, are these subgoals: preserve farmland, protect the natural environment, maintain open space and rural vistas, establish scenic byways and protect scenic corridors, preserve the distinctive, attractive character and strong sense of place of the Granville community, and protect the community’s historic and cultural resources. Each of these subgoals points to certain open space that may make sense to protect. All of these goals and subgoals relate to protecting the general health and welfare of the community; the overall quality of life.
While for reasons of not pushing up values of certain properties the Township tends to not signal in advance specific potential purchases, the Township Trustees and the Granville Township Openspace Committee are always interested in hearing suggestions of properties or parts of properties that residents feel might be worth preserving as open space.
Question: What was the first property acquired by the Township for open space? Was it related to a neighboring annexation?
Answer: The first property acquired as open space was the property now known as the Salt Run property. It is located just south of the village and was not motivated by any annexation threat. The goal was to preserve an area of interesting topography, etc.
The first property acquired as open space using funds raised by an open space levy was some land on West Broadway that was to be developed residentially. The Township Trustees and others felt that it was important to preserve the viewshed from Wildwood Park.
Question: My understanding is that some of the open space near Bryn Du Mansion was bought by the Township, but who bought the mansion itself?
Answer: The mansion was bought by the Village of Granville and today serves a variety of community uses. The open space program is focused on open space and is not designed to buy a building like the mansion.
There was a deliberate process to determine whether or not to purchase the mansion. The idea of purchasing the mansion was put up for a vote of Village citizens. The purchase received overwhelming voter approval.