An effort is underway in Richardson to try to preserve tall grass blackland prairie and spring habitat within the city. A growing group of advocates have stepped up to challenge the development's rezoning plan heading to the City Council. This is always a particularly challenging effort whenever such development proposals reach the level of the City Plan Commission on its way up. As for the commission, their mission is clear as set in the local regulations and by the state. As much as the land conservation advocates must work feverishly to challenge to protect this area, the final appeal can really only come down to the determination of a land owner. How does this company, or individual, resolve the dilemma of an economic gain with an environmental and cultural loss to the community? Does it matter to them? The questions regarding the outcome of the land always comes down to the land ethic of the land owner(s). The community's efforts too often come out on the short end of these late appeals.
But I had to ask myself, why is this now becoming an issue for this community? Why is it only when the prairie land, or the rare or significant stand of trees, are under threat of destruction, do we come out vocally and aggressively and challenge these development initiatives? I'm sure someone knew this land was here in the middle of a sprawling, expansive and infilling city. They knew it was always at risk. The conversations about these lands end up around restaurant tables and informally in conservation group meeting halls. Why were none of these comments in front of local representatives? I understand it when it is land already under city protection. You shouldn't have to fight to protect what is already protected to save it from our own grand visions of every square feet of city being developed. We live in a city where the small pockets of old growth forest and blackland prairie habitat remain there year after year until someone comes along and decides to buy it from a person very willing to sell for a profit. Ultimately, it becomes more valuable to have it built. Where is the advocacy when these places are not challenged for its existence?
Why are you not out there finding these places? Why are you not talking to the landowners to give them options which they may have never considered? Let's talk about conservation easements and development right transfers. Let's talk about fundraising to protect something of value for the community. Are you afraid that knowledge of these locations will only spur someone to develop it? This living in fear of development must end. We must face the development specter head on and scout the trails before the development ever senses an opportunity. Why are you not talking to your park boards to urge them to acquire these properties? It may take years to convince a city to invest in it, or to raise the private funds to purchase it, but if this land is so critical, isn't it worth the long hard effort to do this before someone decides to build 14 houses on it or build a retail shopping center with massive parking lots?
We blame our city governments for being reactive. But I find we citizens do this by our very nature as well. We are far too timid when faced with a ravenous economy devouring land at a massive scale. These places are out there now waiting discovery.
Let's consider another idea. We need to find solutions as part of the economic development program for the city to protect these places so we will be able to say we did our best to protect what had to be protected for the generations to come. Why isn't the preservation of our most critical areas an equal part with economic growth in the sustainability equation for the city? Preservation is one part, development is another. Between them, we hold to and comprehend standards of conservation for the entire community that benefit everyone. And, who knows, maybe the development interests in your community will also help you find these places to protect so they will not have to face these challenges from you in the future. It begins with communication and coming together to reach the same objectives. We won't get all we want, but it's a start.
These most important and special places do not protect themselves, and city ordinances will not protect them for you. It's you or the developer who steps up first, and it's best to have this determined long before it becomes a contest placed before a City Council.
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