Commissioners celebrate 30 years of open space preservation

Chester County Commissioners Kathi Cozzone, Michelle Kichline and Terence Farrell at the Chester County Open Space Preservation 30th anniversary celebration on Thursday.

NEWLIN — Surrounded by the rolling fields and wildlife of ChesLen Preserve, Chester County officials—along with the region’s leading land conservation and economic development partners—unveiled the first study on the economic benefits of Chester County’s preserved open space during the 30th anniversary celebration of open space preservation efforts.

More than 300 of the region’s leading land conservation and economic development partners, as well as other dignitaries and the public joined the Chester County Commissioners as they announced results of the study titled “Return on Environment: The Economic Value of Protected Open Space in Chester County” and unveiled a video about the report during the Open Space Summit Thursday night.

Chester County was the first in the region to formally set aside funds for a rigorous open space preservation program. Study results demonstrate the valuable economic, environmental and public health benefits that open space preservation has provided, including:

  • 8 percent of land, or 140,000 acres, in Chester County has been preserved as protected open space. This is an increase of 3,700 acres since 2017 that includes significant farmland preservation and state and municipal park expansions.
  • Chester County has preserved more land than the size of Philadelphia.
  • 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. In total, it’s a gain of more than $1.65 billion for Chester County’s homeowners and economy.
  • If protected lands were lost to development, 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, according to the report.

Thirty years ago, when Chester County’s remarkable growth was in its 1980s infancy but public concern began to grow over suburban sprawl, an Open Space and Environmental Task Force recommended a $50 million funding program for open space preservation. County voters overwhelmingly approved a ballot referendum in November 1989, and funding has continued ever since.

“Chester County was the first in the region to formally set aside funds for a rigorous open space preservation program, and has now determined the economic value of the existing open space,” said Chester County Commissioners’ Chair Michelle Kichline while speaking to the crowd at Natural Lands’ ChesLen Preserve in Newlin Township. “Green fields, preserved farms and community parks are more than just pretty places that contribute to our quality of life – they are true assets that generate significant economic value for the county.”

“Protected open space is a major factor in planned growth of a community and contributes to the positive health of those who live there,” Commissioner Kichline added. “In fact, recreational activities on open space account for over $170 million in avoided medical costs every year.”

“Open space is a big part of the cultural character of Chester County,” stated Commissioner Kathi Cozzone. “Chester County conservancies are respected and strong – historically and in numbers. We appreciate all the work that the 11 land trusts in Chester County do to maintain the high quality of life here.”

The study also notes that it is less expensive to preserve land than to develop it. Residential development often costs more through community services such as police and fire protection, road maintenance, sewer systems, and new schools. In contrast, farms and protected open space provide more tax revenue for local governments and school districts than they require back in service expenditures.

Open space creates jobs and attracts 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.

“Steps taken by Chester County 30 years ago have more than paid off,” noted Commissioner Terence Farrell. “The investment is providing a great return and one that is unique to Southeastern Pennsylvania. It’s impressive that nearly half – or 45 percent – of all conserved land in this region is in Chester County.”

The study “Return on Environment: The Economic Value of Protected Open Space in Chester County” is a partnership of county departments, municipal representatives, land conservancies and economic development agencies. The economic analysis was conducted by Econsult Solutions, Inc., who completed a similar study for Southeastern Pennsylvania in 2011. Using data from multiple sources including peer reviewed studies and their own economic models, Econsult used Chester County’s open space data to estimate the monetary benefits associated with protected open space in the county.

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