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State Trying to Tackle Cost of Open-Space Preservation

A state commission is looking for ways the state can preserve open space from the mountains to the coast before development takes it over.

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RALEIGH, N.C. — A state commission is looking for ways the state can preserve open space from the mountains to the coast, and some want the state to spend up to $1 billion to protect the land and water that they say help define North Carolina.

“For me, it is an economic development thing as well as just a passion for the land and water and making sure we have clean water and clean air and things that benefit all of us,” said Rep. Lucy Allen, D-Franklin County, co-chair of the Joint Legislative Commission on Land and Water Conservation.

The commission is looking for ways to balance the benefits of open space with fast-encroaching development. The challenge is how to pay for it. Meanwhile, estimates say 277 new acres are being developed every day.

Lawmakers estimate it will take close to $1 billion over the next five years to protect open space that otherwise will lure builders. The most talked-about option would be statewide bonds.

Other, more controversial proposals include earmarking sales, meals, hotels, and personal income taxes to foot the bill for state purchases or for incentives to property owners to keep their land undeveloped.

Development taxes are also on the list for discussion.

Builders and realtors say they, too, want to preserve open space, but they want the burden passed on to everyone, not just home-buyers.

“It unfairly targets people that are buying and selling real estate, more so than anyone else. But, they're not necessarily the ones using the parks and the open space more than anyone else in the state does,” said Lisa Martin, regulatory affairs director of the NC Homebuilders Association.

The law that set up the state commission said its job is to identify what state funding is available already, collect information about incentive-based techniques and management tools for protecting land and water and come up with recommendations.