County Changes the Way it Purchases Open Space

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Wake County has $5 million to purchase open space and it’s testing out a new way to get the best deal.

Since 2000, Wake County residents have approved $91 million in funding for open space preservation. Today, the county has $21 million in authorized, but unsold bonds, and $5 million in available funds.

To make sure the county gets the best bang for its buck, it will be acquiring bids through a Request for Proposal process, much like it would for any other contract. Prior to this, the county officials dealt with land acquisition proposals on a case-by-case basis.

With the exception of greenway projects, open space is preserved space, which means the public wouldn’t have access to it. This could change if residents want to turn some of the land into parks and additional funding became available.

“There are multiple deals that have proposed to us but we also suspect that there may be other deals out there that we’re not aware of,” said Wake County Community Services Director Frank Cope.

Cope explained that when the recession hit, county staff put purchasing open space on hold. At that time there were about 41 properties that were being considered for purchase, amounting to about 1,900 acres worth $27 million.

When county officials once again began looking at purchasing open space, the list of desirable properties had grown to the point that they could evaluate multiple properties.

County staff created a prioritization model that ranked all potential properties by four variables: water quality, parcel size, species and habitat and location.

From that list, they identified an additional 28 potential properties for a total of about 1,500 acres valued at $23.5 million.

The next step is sending out letters to the 41 original property owners along with the 28 potentials letting them know the county is in the market to buy their land.

Cope stressed that the program is voluntary and that if a property owner doesn’t want to sell his land, he doesn’t have to. Those that are interested would go through the new RFP process.

Because officials only have $5 million to spend, they don’t intend to purchase all 69 pieces of property. Cope said that he expects they will end up purchasing between three and five properties, depending on the size and value of the lots.

 

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