OAKLAND TOWNSHIP, MI-This community is one of many across the country that is putting land preservation up for a public vote. Township residents will vote Tuesday on the Land Preservation Millage Proposal, which will fund the acquisition and preservation of open land within the township.

The plan would allow the township to gather an additional .75 mills over 10 years, about $500,000 per year, for a total of $5 million. The money will be used to buy up land from its owners for designations such as parks and other undeveloped public property. The tax would cost owners of a $250,000 home almost $100 extra a year in taxes.

The green spaces acquired with millage money would be representative of the natural and rural history of the township and would be protected from residential or commercial development, according to the township recreation department. The township is considered one of the wealthiest, in per person salary, in Michigan.

This type of public land acquisition effort is going on throughoutautomotively-rich Oakland County, including in Troy, where city leaders are debating a millage increase to buy wetland property from developers. Talks have included the introduction of a .5-millage hike, to be approved by a public vote in April, that would raise about $2.4 million each year for 10 years to buy about 20% of about 350 acres of wetlands in the city.

Public land acquisition, through grassroots efforts, are increasingthroughout the country, said an official with the Land Trust Alliance of Washington DC. Martha Nudel, the communications director of the alliance, says groups such as the Oakland Township Committee in Support of the Land Preservation Millage have increased dramatically in the last few decades.

She says in 1950, there were 53 grassroots groups set up to buy publiclands in 26 states. By 1998, that figure had jumped to more than 1,200groups in most states, Nudel says.

Over the last decade, she said these groups have been largely successful in passing millions of dollars in millage increases to buy billions of dollars worth of private land for public use.

In these areas, as in Troy and Oakland Township, people want to keep out commercial and residential developments, Nudel says.

“It’s an aesthetic issue, an environmental issue and mostly, a quality of life issue,” she says. “People want to be able to walk in these areas, they value the scenic aspect of open land. With the moving in of rapid development, they want to protect what property is left.”

In some cases, but not all, these groups are able to work with residential and commercial developers on a compromise, where the designer will incorporate public, open areas around or interspersed through whatever project they’re designing, Nudel says.

These smart growth policies are in many cases, at least in Michigan, brought about by municipalities adopting planned unit development ordinances, which allow for more negotiation by the governing officials in how a project is designed.

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