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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.




News

January 17, 2013

Charting New Waters – Watershed payments make sense

Investing in land and rewarding landowners to take care of land is a smart investment for long-term water needs. Far less expensive than massive industrial infrastructure, taking care of water catchment areas (watersheds) will provide natural infrastructure for capturing, cleansing and storing the water we need for future generations. Learn more from the Ecosystem Market Place.

September 29, 2011

Lake Travis Economic Impact Report unveiled

The lake dropped to its third lowest level in recorded history this week. It is currently sitting just below 630 feet. The Lake Travis Coalition, which compiled Thursday's report, found that when the lake falls below 661 feet, there's a big hit to those who rely on the water. See KVUE story here.

September 18, 2012

A fiscal conservative's manifesto against sprawl

"But, while my concern with sprawling growth patterns was rooted in their effect on the landscape, on the environment, and on severely compromised populations left behind, Chuck is all about the money. As Thoughts on Building Strong Towns makes quite clear, Chuck believes that sprawl is a Ponzi scheme and we the taxpayers are the ones left holding the empty bags." More from Kaid Benfield.


Hill Country View Segments

  1. 2030 Report
  2. Balance Needed With Growth
  3. Best Land Use
  4. Business Values Community
  5. Cowboy Capital and Growth
  6. Farm and Ranch Land Management Plan
  7. Health Cost of Urban Sprawl
  8. Kerrville Visitors Survey
  9. Land Use Trends
  10. Nature Tourism
  11. Preserving Land Pays
  12. The Proximate Principle
  13. Public Services and Sprawl
  14. Urban Sprawl and Infrastructure Costs
  15. Urban Sprawl and Obesity

Helpful Documents – Region-Specific Studies and Information

Cost of Community Services (COCS): Studies focused on the relationships between residential and commercial growth, agricultural land use, conservation and a community’s bottom line.

County Impact Fee Table - A state-by-state comparison of counties’ ability to levy impact fees. Many other states allow counties to charge developers to cover the real cost of expanding infrastructure and services (2008).
Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy 2005-10 - A 10-county regional study by the Capital Area Economic Development District promoting prosperity and economic equity achieved through diversified business development, balanced growth and improved mobility (2005).
Lake Travis Economic Impact Report - Lake Travis Coalition, Setember, 2011.
The Impact of Greenways on Property Values: Evidence from Austin, Texas - A report on the benefit of green spaces for property values in Austin (2005).
Parkland and Open Space in the Hill Country - A report by Texas Center for Policy Studies (2001).
SH 130 Corridor Watershed Economics - A presentation developed for Envision Central Texas that discusses development alternatives designed to protect watersheds in a five-county study area (2006).

Helpful Documents – Conservation Economics

Land Trust Alliance Fact Sheet - The economic and tax-base benefits of land conservation.
The Economic Benefits of Natural Goods and Services - A report written for the Piedmont Environmental Council
The Economic and Tax-Based Benefits of Land Conservation - An informative Land Trust Alliance Fact Sheet
Agricultural Sustainability and Smart Growth - A report that discusses strategies for preserving urban-influenced farmland (2001).
Assessing the Wealth of Nature - A guideline to using economic studies to promote land conservation over sprawl.
Conservation:An Investment That Pays A discussion about the economic benefits of parks and open space in urban areas from the Trust for Public Land (2009).
The Economic Benefits of Land Conservation – A longer report from the Trust for Public Land that covers the economic benefits of farmland preservation and forests in addition to parks and open space (2007).
“The Wealth of Nature” - A chapter from Rutgers University economist Paul Gottlieb’s forthcoming book on regional planning that discusses the challenges of measuring quality of life and economic benefits of planning activities and the push toward regional planning in New Jersey.
The Proximate Principle – A paper on the impact of parks, open space and water features on residential property values from a professor at Texas A&M (2004).
Nature Tourism in the Lone Star State – A report on the economic benefits of nature-driven tourism from the State Task Force on Texas Nature Tourism.
Economic Impacts of Protecting Rivers, Trails and Greenway Corridors – A resource book developed for the National Park Service that discusses property values, expenditures and economic benefits of greenway preservation, among other topics (1995).
Getty Institute Report on Heritage Economics – A report from the Getty Conservation Institute discussing the role of cultural heritage in economic analysis.

Helpful Links

New Issue Papers: Exploring Environmental Markets Blog from the USDA covering a range of environmental and conservation related issues in America
Gund Institute for Ecological Economics - AAcademics and practitioners working together to develop and implement new environmental policy and management techniques that benefit the environment and the economy, holistically and sustainably.
Texas State Parks – Natural Economic Assets - A 2008 study prepared by the state Comptroller discussing the economic value of Texas State Parks. Includes profiles of specific state parks and statistics on park attendance in addition to financial data.
The Texas Coalition for Conservation - A coalition that develops studies and information related to the economic benefits of Texas parks and land conservation.
Defenders of Wildlife Habitat Benefits Estimation Tool – A toolkit designed to help measure the economic benefits of wildlife habitat conservation.
Texas Land Use Trends - Information on the loss of agricultural land in Texas from Texas Land Trends, a partnership between the American Farmland Trust and the Texas A&M Institute of Renewable Natural Resources.


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The Latest News

Support HCA today by bidding on an Art Barrel and make plans to head to Dripping Springs Saturday for the Rainwater Revival!

The bidding is now open for the Rainwater Revival’s art barrels – professionally designed and decorated rain collection barrels sure to add a delightful yet purposeful accent to your yard. Funds from the auction support rainwater collection and conservation program grants to Hill Country schools. Learn more

The Balcones Canyonlands Preserve – A Western Travis County Asset Worth Learning About

Driving through western portions of Austin, maybe you’ve noticed scenic, tree-covered hills spreading across the landscape and wondered when they will become a new shopping area or residential development. While growth is inevitable, it is also important to preserve land for the environmental benefits it provides. Learn more

Protecting the Hill Country begins with an informed, engaged citizenry

Water is a hot topic in Texas – and it’s getting hotter. Register for Trib + Water to stay informed. This bi-weekly newsletter is brought to you at no cost by The Meadows Center for the Environment and The Texas Tribune.

The Vista Ridge Pipeline - a regional game changer

“The project is much too important and costly for San Antonio not to have a full and complete understanding about the reliability of the groundwater supply.” Read more from this open-letter by Dr. Curtis Chubb, rancher and groundwater expert, published in the Rivard Report. Citizens have the opportunity to address the San Antonio City Council each Wednesday at 6:00 pm. The Alamo Group of the Sierra Club has created a clearinghouse of articles and reports to keep you informed. SA City Council is likely to vote on the project Thursday, October 30th.

San Antonio invests 5 million in Bracken Cave!

“This historic decision puts us within reach of purchasing the entire tract of land and protecting the habitat Bracken’s bats have used for thousands of years.” Read more from Bat Conservation International. “San Antonio is one of the fastest growing cities in the county, in part because of the vast natural resources of the region. It’s our responsibility to ensure we protect and conserve what makes this region incredibly special.” Councilman Ron Nirenburg, quoted in the Rivard Report.

The many reasons millennials are shunning cars

There's a lot of evidence that millennials don't drive as much — or care as much for cars in general — as previous generations their own age did. They're less likely to get driver's licenses. They tend to take fewer car trips, and when they do, those trips are shorter. They're also more likely than older generations to get around by alternative means: by foot, by bike, or by transit. There's still a lot of dispute, however, over exactly what these trends mean. Read more from the Washington Post.

Summit addresses Hill Country issues

"Everything from urban development to dance hall preservation was on the agenda at the Hill Country Alliance 2014 Leadership Summit, held Thursday at the Nimitz Hotel Ballroom." Read the full article from the Fredericksburg Standard.

Keeping Open Spaces Open

“We are reaching a point in Texas where simply standing on common ground is not enough. The lives of urban and rural Texans are irreversibly intertwined, so we must all join forces to create and define initiatives and policies that conserve the common good, while protecting the heritage of private landowners.” Read more of David K. Langford's guest blog for the Cynthia and George Mitchell Foundation.

Harvest that Rain!

Most food growers rely on tap water to keep their plants alive during dry weather, but gardeners are discovering that chemicals in tap water harm the soil organisms that plants depend upon to absorb nutrients. As a result, more and more gardeners are storing rainwater. Read more from Sustainable Food Center.

Bracken Bat Cave needs your help

For the past year, San Antonio City officials, Bat Conservation International, The Nature Conservancy and many other organizations and community leaders have been searching for a solution to avert a 3,500-home development over the Edwards Aquifer and adjacent to Bracken Cave Preserve. Next week, San Antonio's city council will meet to vote on whether to invest $5 million from their Edwards Aquifer Protection Program toward the purchase of the property and a conservation easement to protect aquifer recharge. Learn more from BCI.

Citizens Rule the Night at City Council

City Council chambers filled Wednesday evening with more than 100 people who signed up to speak for or against the proposed SAWS-Vista Ridge Consortium water agreement. Individuals were given two minutes to express their views, while group representatives were allotted five minutes. Read more from the Rivard Report.

When private property rights clash with the public good

“I have never understood why in Texas zoning laws are good for city mice but not for country mice, especially as we lose more and more of the open land that is necessary to our survival as a species every year, but that is the way it is and there seems to be no way to change it until Texans get tired of seeing our state gobbled up by strip malls and truck stops and march on the state capitol armed with shotguns and pruning hooks.” Read this personal story about the Hill Country, by Lonn Taylor, featured in The Big Bend Sentinel. Learn more about County Authority in Texas here.

Public Meeting: Vision for FM 150, October 16 in Driftwood

The public is invited to learn more about the process to develop a Roadway Character Plan for FM 150 from near Arroyo Ranch Road northwest through the Driftwood to RR 12 in Dripping Springs at an October 16 meeting. Hays County Commissioners Will Conley and Ray Whisenant are hosting the meeting to share information about the roadway and gather ideas from the public about what this important cross-county road needs to look like as changes are phased in to improve mobility and safety. Details

Have You Thought about the Hill Country Soundscape?

“..the effects of human endeavors all around the planet can be gauged by listening to the sounds of different habitats. Wild, urban, rural — they all can be interpreted.” Read more from Bernie Krause in “Call of the Wild,” featured in Sun Magazine. Find out what neighbors are doing through the Noise Pollution Clearning House.

Texas A&M reports loss of farms, ranches and forests

“Through Texas Land Trends, we have been able to raise awareness that ‘Yes, we have a lot of land in Texas,’ but we are losing it at a faster rate than most other states in the country, and that loss is having profound impacts on our agricultural base, our water resources and our native wildlife habitat,” Fitzsimons said. Read more about Land Trends.

The Oak Hill “Y” – A gateway to the Hill Country

A community workshop will be held October 9th from 6–8 pm as part of a “Context Sensitive Solutions (CSS) process,” a planning approach that invites the surrounding communities and neighborhoods to influence the design, so that it reflects their cultural and historic values and aesthetic preferences. Learn more about the event hosted by the CTRMA and TxDot. Explore http://Fix290.org for more information.

HCA's 2015 Calendar is Available for Sale!

HCA has released their 9th Texas Hill Country Calendar. Once again, this calendar delivers stunning photography while remaining an informative resource on Hill Country conservation. The stunning photographs featured throughout the 2015 calendar were chosen from nearly 400 submissions to HCA’s 2014 Photo Contest. Learn more

San Antonio a Step Closer to Controversial Pipeline

San Antonio is one step closer to buying some of the most expensive water ever sold in Texas, just as the deal is drawing more critics. Read more from Texas Tribune.

Be a citizen scientist for Wildlife Field Research

at Cibolo Nature Center & Farm on Oct. 6-11 Volunteers interested in learning about Hill Country wildlife and contributing to its scientific study are encouraged to become citizen scientists during the Wildlife Field Research “bio-blitz” taking place Oct. 6-11 at the Cibolo Nature Center & Farm. Wildlife Field Research is open to participants of all ages and skill levels. Learn more

In Cities Across Texas, Activists Battle Billboard Companies

The Highway Beautification Act will be 50 years old next year. As envisioned by Lyndon and Lady Bird Johnson, it was supposed to protect the natural landscape from billboards. Ever since its passage, scenic activists and billboard companies have been at war over the views along American highways. More from NPR.

SAWS Board to Vote on Water Deal, UTSA Panel to Follow

The San Antonio Water System Board will vote Monday on a $3.40-billion landmark water deal that would pipe in 50,000 acre-feet of water to San Antonio annually as soon as 2019, enough to meet 20% of the growing city’s future water needs. Read more from the Rivard Report.

Questions answered by SAWS Monday night

Monday’s vote by SAWS is step one, San Antonio City Council will ultimately consider and vote on the Vista Ridge Pipeline Project. Who is this water for? Where will it ultimately go? Who will ultimately pay and what are the long-term financial implications? Show up at UTSA Monday night for a balanced panel discussion. Get educated and get involved. Event details

Community groups question the rush to approve SAWS Vista Ridge Pipeline

“The 522 page draft contract for this $3.4 billion deal was posted on-line on September 23rd, giving the SAWS Board and the public less than a week to review a deal that will have far reaching implications for our community, including an estimated 16% rate hike for SAWS customers.” Read more from GEAA. As Margaret Day of the Alamo Sierra Club points out “to be sustainable, aquifer drawdown should be no greater than recharge.” Read this opinion piece from the Alamo Sierran Word.

The time is now to speak up in Travis County

Travis County is seeking public comments by Wednesday, Oct 1st on their Land, Water and Transportation plan. Read the plan, take the survey and/or send your comments via email. Meanwhile, CAMPO is taking comments until Oct 6th on a variety of projects including a study to construct a major tollway across sensitive preserve lands. “Traffic solution costly, harmful to environment” Read “City to oppose proposed tollroad” in the Austin American Statesmen.

Public Forum on Trinity Aquifer, Oct. 7

The League of Women Voters of Comal Area invites the public to attend “The Trinity Aquifer: A Shared Resource/ A Shared Responsibility,” to be held October 7 in Canyon Lake. “If you drink water in Comal County, you are likely to be drinking Trinity water, or you soon will be. It is up to all of us to learn more about this resource, no matter where in Comal County we live.” Learn more

Evaporation – a loss for humans and wildlife in Texas

It's no secret that drought has been a major factor in the declining water levels of our lakes and reservoirs here in Texas. But there is another factor that has has received very little attention - evaporation. Read more from Texas Living Waters.

New streetlights to make for darker skies

The stars may seem a little brighter over Kerrville next year. The Kerrville Public Utility Board last week set aside about $734,000 to upgrade 2,000 city street lights to “full cut-off,” high-efficiency LED lamps that won’t shine light upward. Read More from the Kerrville Daily Times.

Water Crisis: Time to Get Serious!

Last week’s “Water Crisis” event hosted by The Hays County Citizens Alliance for Responsible Development (CARD) drew a huge crowd and continues to create a lot of meaningful conversations about how rural lands west of I-35 will be developed. Learn more

Big changes for the Cibolo Nature Center (and FARM!)

Even as Cibolo Nature Center staffers celebrate a major milestone with the completed restoration of the historic Herff farmhouse, they're setting ambitious new goals. Read more from SA Express-News.

It Will Take an Insane Amount of Rain Before the Highland Lakes Recover

Central Texas is having a pretty decent year, rain-wise. We’re sitting just below normal. But these big rain events all have something in common: They really haven’t fallen where we need them most. “The watershed that helps our water supplies isn’t here in Austin; it’s way up into the counties to the north of us." Read more from State Impact.

Trend Of Land Fragmentation, Rural Loss Continues In Texas

Land fragmentation has been a growing problem for Texas, and by all appearances it isn’t going to slow any time soon. The state’s population continues to grow rapidly, and those residents have an insatiable appetite for land. Read more from Livestock Weekly.

No Land. No Water.

As the current drought reminds us, water continues to impact the sustainability and growth of Texas' economy. Unfortunately, land is disappearing faster than in any other state, threatening the water resources on which our economy depends. Land conservation is a cost-effective water resource protection strategy. Join TALT October 1st in Austin.

Fall Camping Workshops Announced for Outdoor Families

With cool weather around the corner, the Texas Outdoor Family program has scheduled outdoor recreational workshops statewide though the beginning of December. The workshops offer a low-cost weekend trip where families can un-plug, reconnect with nature, and learn the basics of camping. Read more from Texas Parks and Wildlife.

Aquifer is No Quick Fix for Central Texas Thirst

Water marketers who want to sell to cities say there’s plenty of groundwater, however landowners and conservationists warn that this precious resource could drain in a few decades. What’s the long-term impact on the Colorado River as the groundwater table declines? Who exactly is this water for and what are they willing to pay? Read this excellent article by Neena Satija, Texas Tribune.

Where is the Hill Country?

ACC Professor Don Jonsson takes an interesting look at various degrees of consensus about what geography is included in the “Hill Country.” His data shows Luckenbach as generally the mean center of the region and the Pedernales River Basin 100% Texas Hill Country. View his project findings, map and summary. HCA has a plethora of helpful Hill Country map resources available online and as well as an interactive map viewer.

Wild Pigs!

Landowner groups and Wildlife Coops – Here’s something worth passing along to your member lists. Wild Pigs are an issue throughout the Hill Country region. Here’s an opportunity to learn from the comfort of your own ranch/home computer. Dial in September 18th to from noon to 1:00. Find out how to access this webinar made possible by the Texas Wildlife Association.

"I’m a NIMBY and proud"

“The effects of population growth on traffic are easy to understand. More people equal more cars on the road. More cars on the road equal more congestion. Duh! The real culprit is the rate at which new people are moving here.” Read one bold Austinite's views (who happens to also be a Real Estate Developer) about the real issue facing Austin (and the Hill Country) population. Ed Wendler, Special to the Austin American Statesman.

CARD Hosts a Community Water Meeting September 11

to host a free community meeting this Thursday to discuss why water is an increasingly critical issue, and how we can all be part of improving the outlook. Speakers include Andy Sansom, Executive Director of the Meadows Center for Water and the Environment, Steve Clouse, Chief Operating Officer of San Antonio Water Systems, Ray Whisenant, Hays County Commissioner, Peter Newell, Water Resources Engineer at HDR Engineering, and Bech Bruun of the TWDB. Details

What’s all this fuss about a Parkway through Oak Hill?

The Fix 290 Coalition, a group of over 40 organizations and businesses and 2,800 petition signers, have been advocating for a “parkway" concept to move traffic through Oak Hill and protect the original character and unique natural environment of the area for more than a decade. The City of Austin is now asking for a study of this community driven “parkway” alternative to TxDot’s traditional elevated/frontage road model. Read more from Fix290.

HCA Transmission Line Workshop Generates Crowd

On Saturday, September 6th the Hill Country Alliance hosted a landowner workshop for those landowners potentially impacted by the LCRA's proposed Blumenthal substation and transmission line project. The workshop featured an update from the LCRA on the status of their application to the Public Utility Commission, and a panel discussion of landowner rights during the transmission line routing and construction process. To read a more detailed summary of the event and access speaker presentations, click here.

A Tale of 2 Water Districts: 1 Aquifer, 2 Strategies

A decade ago, prospective water marketers easily secured the rights to pump more than 20 billion gallons of water annually from the Carrizo-Wilcox aquifer in Central Texas’ Burleson County. The company now holding those rights, BlueWater, is negotiating a $3 billion deal to send much of that water to San Antonio. Read more from The Texas Tribune.

More news

Upcoming Events

October

October 23 in Boerne - 2014 Boerne Water Forum: Community Growth and Water Quality ARE Compatible - Details

October 24 in Utopia - Stars over Utopia - Learn how to protect our night skies and do some stargazing - Details

October 25 in Dripping Springs - HCA's 5th Annual Rainwater Revival! - Details

October 25 in Wimberley - A Whole Farm Approach to Improving the Water Cycle, presented by HMI - Details

October 29 in Austin - Great Places and Healthy People, presented by Congress for the New Urbanism - Details

October 30 in Austin - Balcones Canyonland Preserve Infrastructure Workshop - Details

November

November 3 in New Braunfels - 2014 ASACC & Lone Star Rail District Legislative Session Luncheon with State Representatives Donna Howard, Ruth Jones McClendon and Doug Miller - Details

November 11 in Austin - Meeting of the Austin Sierra Club - Austin Water Resources Planning Task Force with Sharlene Leurig - Details

November 15 in Johnson City - Sneak Peak Fundraiser at the Hill Country Science Mill: A fun foray into the (not-quite-finished) science museum - Details



See more upcoming events


2015 HCA Calendar

One sale now!- Purchase Online

Check out the top photos from our 2014 HCA Photo Contest


Imagine a place where vibrant communities draw strength from their natural assets to sustain their quality of life. A place where citizens care about protecting the special qualities of a region – their region. A place where people and partners band together to envision a better economic future, tackle shared challenges and care for the natural, scenic, and recreational resources that define the place they call home.
~This is a Conservation Landscape



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Maps

Helpful Mapping Resources - Beautiful and informative maps of the region to print and share.

HCA Dynamic Mapping Tool - Interactive online GIS mapping tool

 
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