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Speaker outlines keys for smart conservation

October 28, 2003|by DAVE McMILLION

charlestown@herald-mail.com

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. - One of the leading experts on open space was in Jefferson County Monday night to give advice on how developers and advocates of land conservation can find common ground to achieve their respective goals.

Often the two sides are at odds, creating a polarizing atmosphere in a community, Ed McMahon told an audience at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife's National Conservation Training Center.

The scenario is often played out in land use and planning meetings in Jefferson and Berkeley counties as the population growth continues in the Eastern Panhandle. McMahon pointed out neighboring Loudoun County, Va., which is one of the fastest growing counties in the country.

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"Jefferson County is now getting the spillover from that," he said.

The tension between the sides can be eased through well-planned open space proposals, said McMahon, who has been affiliated with at least a half dozen land conservation groups and has written eight books and more than 125 articles on the subject.

Part of the problem in past land conservation efforts is that a plan did not exist for how lands should be saved, creating confusion over what areas would be allowed for development, McMahon said.

Among the main needs of developers are predictability and certainty in the area in which they work, McMahon said.

Land conservation advocates desire the same thing, McMahon said.

McMahon encouraged developers and open space advocates to work together to develop land conservation plans that meet each group's goals.

Attractive open space areas can be a boon to housing developers, McMahon said.

Houses that border on natural areas are almost always more valuable than houses that do not, McMahon said.

To prove his point, McMahon asked the audience to think about golf course communities.

When people buy houses in the communities, most homeowners want their properties to border the golf course, McMahon said.

"We spend a lot of time fighting when we ought to sit down and figure out what we have in common," said McMahon, who is vice president of The Conservation Fund and has appeared on national news programs.

McMahon combined his talk with a slide presentation that showed how towns used land conservation plans both to create green space and boost business.

Some of the examples included communities that have built bike trails in open space areas, which spawned new businesses like bicycle dealers and other spin off businesses.

"Travel and tourism is the largest industry in the world," McMahon said.

While some states have pumped millions of dollars into creating open space, the efforts have been misguided at times, McMahon said.

He showed a slide picture of a farm that was saved, but jammed all around it were dense residential areas. The problem is that the farm is no longer good for agriculture, McMahon said.

The farm's new neighbors complain about the noise and smells from the farm, the nearby farm tractor repair shop moves away, and the farming operation collapses, McMahon said.

McMahon encouraged communities to develop open space programs that are interconnected and support each other.

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