Open Space Measures Win in New York Suburbs

NEW YORK: As they went to the polls yesterday, voters in ten towns surrounding New York City faced a tough choice, and it wasn’t only who to elect as the next President of the United States or junior Senator from New York. They also had to decide whether it was worth raising their own town taxes to preserve local open space. With the votes counted, it is clear that these suburban voters saw protecting open space as a good investment. All ten town measures passed by large, and in several cases, overwhelming margins.

In Nassau County, voters in Oyster Bay and North Hempstead approved town open space bonds that will generate $45 million ($30 million and $15 million respectively) in new local funding for land conservation and parks improvements. There had been some concern that the County’s current fiscal crisis and a looming county-wide re-assessment would leave voters in no mood for any additional spending. However, town residents apparently decided that local open space protection was a separate issue, and a good idea. With the vote count complete in both communities, North Hempstead’s bond passed with a 71% yes vote, and the Oyster Bay’s with a 69% yes vote.

Both referenda were promoted heavily in the final weeks before election day. The Trust for Public Land, working closely with local advocates in both towns, developed a newspaper ad campaign, which ran this past weekend in Newsday and twenty local weeklies. The ads, combined with effective public education and get out the vote efforts by the local campaign committees, helped achieve a high turnout of “yes” voters for the measures.

“We worked very hard to educate the public about this important issue, and producing ads with TPL to promote the referendum was a critical component of getting the message out,” said Joseph Lorintz of the Water and Parks Committee, the local committee that formed to promote the ballot measure in Oyster Bay.

Jennifer Rimmer of Residents for a More Beautiful Port Washington, a civic group that helped spearhead the campaign for the North Hempstead measure, said “we are thrilled and thankful that the people of North Hempstead came out so strongly to fund watershed and open space protection.” “We are also really grateful to TPL for producing and underwriting newspaper ads in support of the referendum,” Rimmer said.

In Rockland County, Clarkstown voters approved a $22 million open space bond referendum by a margin of 55% to 45%. TPL helped organize the local campaign committee, and gave advice on strategy and message. “The win in Clarkstown is especially gratifying,” said Chris Wells, the Trust’s Public Finance Manager, “because the local volunteers had only a few weeks to pull together a campaign; they did an absolutely amazing job in getting out their vote, and the result was a surprisingly big win.”

In Westchester, open space ballot referenda in Bedford, Irvington, Lewisboro, North Salem, Pound Ridge, Somers and Yorktown were all passed by the voters. Victory margins ranged from a high of 83% in Irvington to a relatively close 53% yes vote in Pound Ridge. Together, the measures will generate approximately $17 million for open space preservation over the next several years. The Trust for Public Land worked with citizen groups and town officials for as much as a year to get the town measures on the ballots and passed by voters. TPL helped develop voter surveys, led workshops on campaign organization and strategy, helped develop educational and advocacy materials, spoke in support of the measures at public hearings, and provided ongoing advice and assistance to local grassroots groups working on the measures.

TPL’s efforts dovetailed with those of the Westchester Open Space Alliance and the Westchester Land Trust, which also played key roles in coordinating and promoting the Westchester campaigns. “TPL and the Westchester Land Trust worked as a strong team on the seven town measures,” said Paul Gallay, director of the Westchester Land Trust. “The Trust for Public Land provided public finance expertise and a national perspective, while the Westchester Land Trust focused on local coalition-building and advocacy. It was a winning combination.”

Both Wells and Gallay stressed that the heroes of the town campaigns were the grassroots organizations formed in each town to support the referenda. “It was inspiring to see the local coalitions blossom, particularly the way they pulled in people who had never been involved in local politics,” said Wells. “We were able to provide assistance, but these referenda would never have passed without their skills, savvy and hard work.”

The Trust for Public Land’s Public Finance Program has helped states, counties and municipalities secure approximately $21 billion in new funding for parks and land conservation since 1994 and is currently in the middle of a five-year effort to help communities generate $20 billion in conservation funding. During yesterday’s election, voters across the country voted on ballot initiatives totaling more than $4 billion for land conservation. For up to date results for open space referenda nationwide, visit