Land Banking

 

On a motorcycle trip last June, I had the opportunity to ride through much of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. As I experienced the beautiful forest vistas, the clear flowing creeks, the breathtaking variety of wildlife, one thought persisted in my mind: "This property isn't really being used for much; it could have been cleared and developed and made somebody a lot of money. But instead, there were elected leaders in this great nation who had the foresight, the vision, the civic responsibility to buy this land, and when more was available, to buy more, and to place it forever in the hands of the citizens for their permanent enjoyment." 

I've thought the same thing while mountain biking in the Uwharrie National Forest in Montgomery County and the Sandhills and Harbison State Forests in South Carolina. Close to home, I've marveled at the expansive wilderness of Cane Creek Park, and the quiet and natural vistas of the greenways along Mecklenburg County's creeks.

One thing all these sites have in common: there were elected officials at all levels, federal, state, and local, who realized the importance of preserving some of this beauty for their children and their children's children. They persisted, sometimes over the objections of unenlightened colleagues who said "that's a waste of money". And the result has been not only outdoor recreation opportunities, but also cleaner air and water to sustain us.

Here in Mineral Springs, we must seek out these opportunities and take advantage of them. Our residents need and deserve not only preserved wilderness areas, but also sites for other future public uses: a town hall, playgrounds, ball fields, areas downtown just for strolling and sitting. Although many of these facilities might not be needed or developed for years to come, the time to acquire the land for them is now. Anybody who has recently purchased a building lot in Mineral Springs knows that the price for a single acre generally ranges from $30,000 to as much as $75,000. As more and more of our precious undeveloped land is cleared and developed, the price of what's left will continue to rise. Our own Union County school system is finding it nearly impossible to acquire needed school sites in the overdeveloped western side of the county where even large tracts of raw land are selling for $70,000 per acre and up. In fact, there comes a time when there is simply not enough land available at any price. Mecklenburg County has hundreds of millions of dollars in bond money available to acquire much-needed park land, but there is simply none left to buy in some of the areas where the need is greatest.

With our extremely low taxes and small budget in Mineral Springs, we must constantly be on the lookout for bargains. That is why I am both proud of and grateful for recent agreements your town council has reached with Charlotte developer Carmel Brothers and Concord developer Niblock Homes.. As an example of how developers can work with the town government to design subdivisions that complement the Mineral Springs vision, Carmel Brothers and Niblock have dedicated nearly all of the floodplain on their sites (approximately 25 acres) plus approximately another 17 acres of non-floodplain (that they could have built on) to the town as part of a future greenway at no cost to the town!  
In addition, Carmel Brothers sold the town an additional 3.59 acres of wooded land including a beautiful spring adjoining this unspoiled creekfront greenway corridor for $12,900 per acre, approximately one-half of their cost, for a total of approximately $46,000. And, in one of the most exciting and significant conservation victories ever for Union County, Mineral Springs just received a $307,000 grant from the NC Clean Water Management Trust Fund to purchase another 12 acres of beautiful mature hardwood forest from Niblock Homes at their cost. When these conservation projects are completed, Mineral Springs will have assembled nearly 60 contiguous acres of the most environmentally significant land still left in the town...and permanently preserved this beautiful wilderness and creek frontage as a recreational asset for generations of Mineral Springs residents to come.

In conjunction with the Catawba Lands Conservancy, Mineral Springs has embarked on a far-reaching conservation project centered upon these land purchases and the town's greenway plan. In addition to the donated and purchased land already described, there are other significant conservation tracts in the immediate area. The Brantley Oaks subdivision has an additional 17 acres of floodplain and adjoining upland already designated as common open space. At the south of the project area is a 60-acre tract owned by The Nature Conservancy, which was acquired as a habitat and research tract for the endangered Schweinitz sunflower. Adjoining that is the 70-acre Giovaniello tract, which is currently being developed under the town's new coservation subdivision regulations into a 12-lot equestrian subdivision with over 35 acres of permanently protected open space.

All of these tracts considered together, whether in public or private ownership, comprise one of the largest permanent conservation projects in the region. 

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I am proud to support such land purchases and cooperative efforts with private landowners, developers, and conservation agencies.. In fact, we recently located and purchased land in the downtown area for a future town hall site. I was instrumental in gaining funding for our conservation effort  from the NC Clean Water Management Trust Fund, and will continue to seek other funding sources such as the NC Parks and Recreation Trust Fund in order to secure more unspoiled properties for preservation. The time to protect our town's future is now.


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