2012:  The Importance of Open Space

Celeste Bish

New Hanover Township

 

 Between 1970 and 2000, it is estimated that close to 30% of Montgomery County land was lost to development.  If this trend continues, it is estimated there could be 46,000 new homes and the disappearance of 55,000 acres within the next twelve years.  Our area of southeastern Pennsylvania is one of the fastest growing regions in the eastern United States.

Do you know . . . that our area, including New Hanover Township, is environmentally significant (part of the Pennsylvania Highlands Region) and historically significant? This area includes numerous prehistoric Native American sites, well maintained historic structures, from the colonial period to mid-1800’s, including mills, farms, and businesses.

New Hanover Township is very fortunate to have two of the area’s most important historical structures.

·         The Falkner Swamp German Reformed Church (now United Church of Christ)

           is the oldest German Reformed church in the nation.  The present structure

           was dedicated on June 6, 1790.  It was remodeled in 1869, then painted and refitted in  

           1889.  During the Revolutionary War, the church was used as a hospital for 

           the sick, and many revolutionary patriots and soldiers of 1812 are buried in the church

           cemetery there.

·         The New Hanover Evangelical Lutheran Church is the oldest German Lutheran Congregation in the Unitied States. It was founded in 1700 by Daniel Falckner.  He gathered the German immigrant Lutherans living between the Schuylkill River and what is now Pennsburg to form a congregation.  The stone building currently being used for worship was constructed in 1768 by the congregation.  Prior to that, they worshipped in log buildings.  During the war for American independence, the building was used as a temporary hospital during the retreat of Washington’s army following the Battle at Brandywine.

New Hanover Township currently has numerous 18th and 19th century structures where historians and visitors can interpret and understand the Germanic folk culture that was so important to the founding of the nation.  Although the southern end of the township is somewhat consumed by sprawl, the more northerly parts still reflect the agricultural roots of the local geographic region --- the Swamp Creek Watershed. The Swamp Creek has been listed as a "high value stream" by the Conservancy of Montgomery County.

In nearby Upper Frederick Township is the Henry Antes Plantation. The Antes House is a National Historic Landmark which is more significant than being on the historic registry.  Henry Antes is a very important historical figure particularly in founding the Moravian Church in America.

Why should we maintain open space?

Open space provides a variety of functions that satisfy human needs such as cleaner air, filtration of water, and protection from flooding.  Open space provides areas of recreation that can provide economic value, such as hunting and fishing, hiking, biking, boating and camping.   Locally-grown farm produce is healthier for us, less expensive and helps to support the local community.

Can we place a value on wildlife?  Wetlands serve as a wildlife habitat and they help mitigate floods.  Wetlands perform nutrient transformation in the anaerobic, saturated ground around plant roots.  Wetlands are very beneficial for amphibians. 

How many of us would like to preserve the value of our homes? 

A good resource that reflects area amenities that sustain property values may be found in the “Better Models for Development in Pennsylvania … Ideas for Creating More Livable and Prosperous Communities.” This Toolkit is made available through the Conservation Fund and the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

Better Models includes six main land use principles for communities to use to plan & design for the future:

1.  Conserve farmland, natural areas & scenic assets
2.  Maintain a clear edge between town & countryside
3.  Build and maintain livable & attractive communities
4.  Preserve historic resources
5.  Respect local community character in new construction
6.  Reduce impact of the car & promote walk-ability

 

According to the American Farmland Trust, the quality of life sought by rural residents reflects the sum total of the many desirable attributes of rural settings including peace, solitude, proximity to nature, etc.

As presented in the Report of the Bucks County Open Space Task Force, 2007, which is consistent with the documented open space objectives for Lehigh, Berks, and Montgomery Counties, open space provides economic benefits to individuals and local governments alike. 

To explain – it is a fact that farmland and open space impose significantly fewer costs on local governments than other land uses.  Here’s how it works . . .

Numerous studies demonstrate that the cost of providing local governmental services (e.g. sewer, water, streets, refuse collection, etc.) and public education to residential land uses are greater than the tax revenues they generate.

- - - Meanwhile, owners of farms & open land pay more in local taxes than they require in community services.  Even with preferential assessment, farmland has been shown to subsidize educational costs of residential land uses.

Property Values - - Properties near preserved open space are often desirable because they offer natural beauty, protected views, and an added sense of privacy. These amenities, among others, create an enhancement value that has been shown to increase property values.

In fact, the real estate market consistently demonstrates that buyers are willing to pay more for property located close to parks and open space areas than for a home that does not offer this amenity.

As you can see, open space contributes to the many quality-of-life necessities & advantages.

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