Thursday, June 14, 2007

The cost of saving us from ourselves

It's getting pricier to preserve land in North Carolina -- and save us from ourselves.
Two events this week shone a bright light on the high costs – and other difficulties – of preserving open space in North Carolina.
On Tuesday, the coalition group Land for Tomorrow released a report outlining how dramatically the costs of preserving land have jumped over a 10-year period. Kate Dixon, executive director of the organization, told the House Environment Committee that costs of preserving land for drinking water, state and local parks and habitat for plant and wildlife have jumped 300 percent.
“The supply of critical conservation areas is dwindling as lands are developed to meet the needs of our rapidly growing population,” Dixon said in a statement. “Under such conditions, waiting will only mean higher prices and lost opportunities.”
The report is available here .
Then Thursday, Raleigh Mayor Charles Meeker and leaders of three local citizens groups made a public offer to the state for the last 311 acres remaining on Dix Hill, for more than a century the site of the state’s mental hospital and a good many other state buildings. The state is closing Dorothea Dix Hospital next year, and local citizens are debating the best use of the land.
Gov. Mike Easley wants to build some new state offices there. Speaker Joe Hackney and other House members concerned about state mental health programs want the property to continue to have a role in provision of mental health services. Some developers would like to purchase the property and develop it in a variety of ways.
But the mayor and leaders of Dix Visionaries, Friends of Dorothea Dix Park and Dix 306 (until recently it was thought there were 306 remaining acres, but there are 311) say the land is a rare urban gem that ought to be preserved as the capital city’s Central Park.
Meeker said the group is offering offer the state $10.5 million for the land and welcomed an appraisal of the property for a park. He said that if the property is valued as other parkland the city has purchase, it would pay about $3,000 to $5,000 per acre for about 100 acres of lowlands and landfilled areas of the property, amounting to about $500,000, plus as much as $50,000 per acre for more than 200 acres of developable land, amounting to $10 million more.
Here are links to Friends of Dorothea Dix Park and DIX306.
Gregory Poole of Dix Visionaries also announced that Dix Visionaries would pledge to raise $7 million for the park from private contributors.
Said Meeker, “The state is not being asked to pay for the park. The state is being asked to accept” the $10.5 million for the park.
No doubt the legislature will want more money for the park, but the offer Thursday represents a good-faith effort by some dedicated folks to preserve what’s left of Dix Hill, just a brisk walk from downtown Raleigh and the Capitol, as a park for North Carolinians from the coast to the mountains.

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