Wake County staff and commissioners are working on their wish list for open space and greenways, and trying to figure out how to pay for them. County Commission members discussed the growing list of open space plans at their work session Monday.
Open space is land that will be preserved, but won’t have a public use unless funding and interest becomes available.
Until this year, the county purchased open space on a case-by-case basis. In March, commissioners changed the purchase process. Afterward, they made a list of potential properties that might be useful to the county. The properties were prioritized using four variables: water quality, parcel size, species and habitat, and location.
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The completed list totaled 1,900 acres worth about $27 million.
In April, letters were sent to those property owners, who were encouraged to send in their best offer if they were interested in selling. Wake County cities and towns were also encouraged to submit greenway projects.
The county received bids from 25 property owners, five municipalities and one museum.
From the received bids, county staff ranked each property, creating a top, middle and bottom tier. The top tier was made up of 10 bids, including seven purchases and three greenway projects. The cost to implement the entire top tier is about $9.1 million.
Because the county only has $5 million to spend, it cut two of the projects, an easement and a greenway, the former due to tax complications and the latter due to funding.
The county still has $21 million of unsold bonds and it is likely that those two projects will be considered when that money becomes available.
Many of the top tier properties would connect existing county-owned property or allow for future connection.
Commissioner Tony Gurley questioned how staff ranked open space versus greenway projects.
Wake County Community Services Director Frank Cope said there really was no way that they could compare both side-by-side, but open space was seen as a higher priority because greenways will get done eventually.
Once an open space property is developed,” he said, “we lose that opportunity forever.”
He said because of the location of most of the rural properties, it’s unlikely that a developer will come by and build a mall, but the minute that someone builds a house on it, the county loses the chance to preserve the land.
Commissioner Joe Bryan expressed some concerns about the price quote listed for the properties. The quotes came from property owners who presumably gave the county their lowest offer, but in some cases those offers were almost 100 percent tax value.
I just want to know that you’re going to negotiate hard,” Bryan said.
County staff will continue negotiating with the property owners. The Commission will have a final vote on land purchases.