Open Space Committee

Town of Peterborough, New Hampshire

What is the relationship between open space and property taxes?

See the 2005 report from The Trust for Public Land: "Managing Growth: The Impact of Conservation and Development on Property Taxes in New Hampshire."

It's widely understood that residential development doesn't pay for itself because of schoolchildren that come along with houses. This raises a logical question: Does a town's taxable commercial/industrial property base make up for the residential shortfall?

As this chart from the study indicates, the higher the taxable property base in a town –– residential + commercial and industrial –– on average, the higher a town's property tax. So the answer is No, the commercial/industrial sector doesn't pay the residential shortfall, and the study explains why.

As for the impact of conservation land on a town's tax bill, this chart from the study indicates that, on average, New Hampshire towns with more permanently conserved land have lower property taxes.

Here's a quote from the "Managing Growth" conclusion that wraps the situation up:

Ecological –– maintains healthy water, soil, and air, and promotes climate change resilience

Fiscal –– requires few of the town services that drive up taxes

Economic –– is linked to 25% of New Hampshire's economy through revenue and jobs from tourism, recreation, farm and forest, and quality of life

Scenic –– inspires residents and encourages visitors

Recreational –– encourages healthy outdoor activities

Educational –– provides outdoor classrooms for nature and environmental studies

Historical –– preserves farm land and structures of historical significance

The Benefits of Permanently Conserved Land ––

Today and for Future Generations

Why is it important to preserve agricultural land in our town?

Transporting food from great distances adds greenhouse gases to the atmosphere and is increasingly expensive.  It is more and more important to have good local food sources available.  We should be preserving our best agricultural land to provide local food for our children and grandchildren.

Do you want further details?

See this 2014 study, New Hampshire's Return on Investment in Land Conservation, done for The Trust for Public Land.

See Current Use Property Taxation In the Conservation of New Hampshire Land: An Empirical Investigation Using Multiple Imputations.

See this presentation on Why Conserve Land prepared by the Land Trust Alliance.

Rosaly's Farm

Why should we respond to a changing climate by preserving more open space?

Wherever trees and other plants are growing, they are removing some of the excess carbon dioxide from our atmosphere during photosynthesis, thus mitigating climate change.

Climate scientists predict that New Hampshire will experience more episodes of very heavy rainfall as climate change progresses.  Open spaces can absorb excess water and help to reduce flooding, whereas impervious roads and houses contribute to more serious flooding.  More open space promotes climate change adaptation.  Read about the University of New Hampshire's analysis of future climate impacts in our region, "Climate Change in Southern New Hampshire: Past, Present, and Future."

Since our climate is now changing, it is hard to predict exactly which plants and animals will inhabit our open spaces in the future.  For that reason, we need to preserve spaces that will support a variety of plants and animals, whatever the climate conditions.  New research suggests that to protect diversity, we should focus on three elements: the complexity of landforms, the connectivity of natural systems, and a variety of geology types.  Read about the Resilient Landscapes Initiative at the Open Space Institute website.

In the long term, contrary to the common perception that development will bring lower taxes, property tax bills are generally higher in more developed towns than in less developed towns. Using population size and value of buildings as a proxy for development, our findings indicate that the tax bill on the typical house is, on average, higher in towns with higher populations and more buildings.

The study is very reader-friendly. We recommend it highly!

Photo by Joan Barrows

Photo by Eric Aldrich

PES students explore the Fremont Conservation Land on a Harris Center field trip.

The scenic beauty of MacDowell Lake provides inspiration and respite.