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Photo: Paul Huchton

Economics of Sound Planning

The case for planning and conservation in the Texas Hill Country is clear when we think about water resources, scenic beauty and quality of life. However, since economic benefits are often used to argue for growth at all costs, it is also important to analyze the economic value of conservation activities and existing natural landscapes. Measuring the economic benefits of thoughtful growth and conservation policies can be challenging — how does one measure the dollar value of a clear creek or a nearby network of hiking trails? We also seek to find a rightful place for economics within a larger conversation about what we value in our communities. The studies found on this page take a look a variety of related topics such as the value of parks, the cost of infrastructure, the economic effects of tourism and how investing in land conservation pays off.

Some key findings from existing studies on planning economics include:

  • The amount of property tax revenue from residential sprawl is not enough to cover the costs associated with new infrastructure. This means that current taxpayers subsidize new development.
  • For every dollar Bandera County receives in taxes from farm and agricultural lands, it spends $0.26 to service the same area. Yet, in residential areas, the county spends $1.10 in services on every dollar received in taxes.
  • For every dollar put into parks by the LCRA and Travis County, $16.80 was returned in benefit.
  • While most other states allow counties to collect fees from developers to help offset the cost of new development, Texas does not.
  • Texas leads the nation in loss of prime agricultural farmland to development.
  • The real estate market consistently demonstrates that many people are willing to pay a more for property located close to parks and open space areas. The higher value of these residences means that their owners pay higher property taxes. In effect, this represents a “capitalization” of parkland into increased property values for proximate landowners.
  • Conservation-oriented areas show higher appreciation in property values.
  • Residents value undeveloped lands primarily for their wildlife habitat and water quality protection.
  • In 2008, visitors to state parks from outside Texas added $15.7 million to the gross state product.
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