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Visioning the Upper Delaware River Corridor   
Ways to secure open space

By NEAL HALLORAN

This is not so much a vision as it is just one more way to achieve what I believe is a vision many of us hold. Several years ago I wrote another article on my vision of the Delaware River Valley. It wasn’t some grand vision of what it might become, but an appreciation of what is here. I always liked the openness and natural beauty of what was here when I would visit my grandmother and other relatives in Sullivan County as a child. We would visit on a regular basis and spent some summers up here. As a teen I worked in a boarding house on Washington Lake in Yulan, including the infamous summer of 1969.

Those memories and the way things were helped me choose to move here some 20-odd years ago to raise my family. There is a safety to living here as opposed to the suburbs of New Jersey where I was raised. There is a value placed on what is here naturally, not so much emphasis on how man and woman has or can manipulate or build something. There is not so much emphasis on how big or ostentatious I can build my house but how can it fit in with what is here naturally.

One of the tools that has been used very successfully on the eastern end of Long Island is the purchase of development rights and as a corollary, a real estate transfer tax to pay for it. The purchase of development rights is just that—the willing seller and willing buyer of only the development rights of a property. No claim of eminent domain. No arm-twisting, just two willing parties.

A development right is just one of the several rights you normally own when you purchase a piece of property. Other rights are such things as mineral or gas rights or, as is done frequently around here, the right to hunt or fish on a property. Some of us bought properties that have long ago sold the gas rights to a company, and we may not realize it or be concerned about it. But a development right is that right that allows us to build on our property anything that is permitted by law. Generally it is a house or houses, but it could be a store or other commercial uses.

If I own land with a building already on it, I may not care to be able to build more on it. I may want it for hunting and fishing, farming or for my own seclusion, to appreciate the natural features or views. Consequently I may be willing to sell my “development rights” to building anything additional on my property. So I might sell my rights to build more on my property for an amount. I can still farm it, hunt it, live on it, sell it, etc. I can sell just my right to build more on it.

A real estate transfer tax is a tax levied when a piece of real estate passes from one person to another. It can be structured many different ways and at any level. But in most cases where this is done for the preservation of open space, it is small (usually ½ to 2 percent) and frequently it exempts the first $50,000 dollars for a house or $25,000 for raw land. These numbers can be set to local conditions but the intent is to not adversely tax those people who are buying modest homes.

Why could this be good? Because it is a way to not raise all the money by taxing those people who are already paying taxes here. It affects those people who have a choice to move here or not. If they like the qualities of the area, they will pay the tax because it supports what is here. This small tax will not keep people from buying here. The rising costs of real estate is much greater than this small percentage and yet people still choose to buy here.

This is not the only solution to preserving the quality of life of life in our area. It is but a single tool available for our use if we want to use it. In the future, we hope to hear of other tools we can also use.

[Neal Halloran is the zoning officer for the Town of Goshen and is a member of the Visioning Committee of the Upper Delaware River Corridor.

This column is part of the Visioning the Upper Delaware Valley initiative, which seeks to engage citizens in a valley-wide discussion about future development. For more information and a complete archive of visioning columns, visit upperdelaware.com.]

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