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Solebury is hoping for passage of $12 million referendum


It’s become a tradition in Solebury to preserve open spaces for future generations. Since 1996, voters have gone to the polls and approved borrowing a total of $44 million for that purpose.

As a result, 38 percent of the township’s acreage is preserved from development.

The problem is that those funds are now all used up, so the township is asking voters to authorize an additional $12 million for land preservation in the upcoming Nov. 5 referendum.

Without those new funds, said Supervisor Chair Mark Baum Baicker, “our incredibly successful land preservation program is dead.”

There are 200 acres ready to enter the preservation program at the moment, said Jean Weiss, land preservation administrator, but unless the referendum is approved, there is no money to make it happen.

Terry Clemons, Solebury’s counsel on open space issues, said there are also potential large tracts where the township needs to be in a position to move quickly.

Under the program, preservation can be accomplished by having the township buy a property outright or by creating a conservation easement.

An easement involves notifying the township (Weiss) of an interest and she notifies the township land preservation committee headed by Phil Johnson.

The committee, Johnson said, then looks at 15 items, such as soils another features. There will be an appraisal and an offer will be made.

The land also will be checked annually to see there are no violations of the easement agreement.

Among the benefits cited for preservation agreements are:

– The property will be preserved as it is today;

– The owner retains ownership and knows it will not be developed;

– The real estate millage will not increase on the property in the future;

– Tax relief since there will be fewer school-age children resulting in fewer schools;

– Preservation of natural resources;

– Easements can be used as estate planning tools to help farmers pass on the farm to the next generation.

Clemons also noted that the preservation route, which can take from three to six months, is faster than trying to sell to a developer. That is because a developer will not want settlement until he has all township subdivision approvals in-hand, a process that can take more than two years, he added.

Under current conditions, the next $5 million of borrowing by the township for open space purposes would increase taxes for the average Solebury Township household by about $50 per year.

The portion of the $12 million bond issue not used during a tax year, is not subject to taxes until it is spent.

The previous four township preservation referendums were approved by 87 percent to 90 percent by the voters. This year’s referendum question, to be answered as either “yes” or “no” reads:

“Shall debt be authorized to be incurred as debt approved by the electors in the sum of Twelve Million Dollars ($12,000,000) for the purpose of financing the acquisition of interests in or improvements to real property for open space, including but not limited to the preservation of environmentally sensitive areas and open space for agricultural and conservation easements, active and passive recreation, and cultural purposes?”