Investing in the environment has paid off for Chester County
By Steven Hoffman
Last week, Chester County officials and the region’s leading land conservation and economic development partners unveiled a new study on the economic benefits of the county’s efforts to preserve open space.
The study, “Return on Environment: The Economic Value of Protected Open Space in Chester County,” coincides with the 30th anniversary of the county’s open-space preservation efforts. In November of 1989, Chester County voters overwhelmingly approved a ballot referendum that allocated resources for open space preservation. The funding has continued ever since. When Chester County launched its open space preservation program in 1989, it was the first county in the region to formally set aside funds for an open space preservation program based on the economic, environmental, and public health benefits that open space preservation provides.
Back in late 1980s, the county was experiencing strong commercial and residential growth, prompting fears of suburban sprawl, and all the societal issues that come with it. Since that time, county officials, as well as land conservation groups throughout the area, have consistently supported preservation efforts. The study outlined what the 30 years of commitment has produced, and the results are impressive.
Chester County has preserved 140,000 acres, which is more land than the size of Philadelphia. In total, 28.8 percent of the county’s land has been preserved as protected open space. The preserved land produces an undeniable economic impact. Homes in Chester County are valued at over $11,000 more when they are located within a half-mile of preserved open space, according to the study. That amounts to a gain of more than $1.65 billion, in total, for Chester County’s homeowners and economy.
The green fields, preserved farms, and community parks all enhance the quality of life for residents who live near them.
If these protected lands were lost to development, sprawl would be one obvious result. There would also be a strain on communities. Chester County would need to spend about $97 million a year to replicate vital services such as flood control and air and water pollution mitigation through costly alternative methods.
The study noted that it is less expensive to preserve land than to development it. This is particularly true if a residential development is proposed. Residential development costs much more through community services such as schools, police and fire protection, road maintenance, and other services.
Open space can also create jobs and attract people who spend in the community. Each year, open space accounts for $238 million in spending and $69 million in salaries. Protected farmland puts about $135 million back into the economy each year, and preserved open space accounts for roughly 1,800 jobs in Chester County, according to the report.
It’s no coincidence that Chester County has grown more economically healthy and vibrant at a time when it was investing in open space preservation. When the study was released, County Commissioner Terence Farrell said that 45 percent of all conserved land in the region is situated in Chester County.
County Commissioner Kathi Cozzone said that open space is a big part of the cultural character of Chester County.
Clearly, Chester County is an illustration of how investing in the environment can pay in a big way for residents.