NEW YORK, NY — March 23, 2011— The Catskills, one of New York State's most ecologically vital regions but also one of the hardest hit by the recession, contains 10 times the land needed to support population expectations through 2035, meaning growth can occur without negatively affecting open space resources, a new study indicates.
The findings were released today as part of "Private Lands, Public Benefits," a study by the Open Space Institute that identifies more than 520,000 acres of privately owned land without physical impediments, restrictions against development or important open space resources. The half million-plus acres it identifies as "preferred growth areas" are significantly more than would be needed to accommodate population growth estimates of approximately 4 percent over the next 25 years.
The report's 22 pages of maps, analysis and appendices could help officials in the four counties it examines—Sullivan, Ulster, Greene and Delaware—as they work to attract sustainable development that will increase the region's prosperity while protecting the wildlife, agricultural and recreational resources that make the Catskills a desirable place to live.
"This report presents an analysis that can help balanced and sustainable development in our region become a reality," said Jonathan Drapkin, president and CEO of Pattern for Progress. "OSI's study identifies areas where there is the potential for a 'win-win' between conservation and development. That synergy is critical to assuring development can occur in a timely and efficient manner while serving the greatest long-term interests of Catskill residents and businesspeople."
"Private Lands, Public Benefits" also highlights the important role private landowners will play in protecting Catskill open space resources. OSI's research shows that 68 percent of the region's water, habitat, agricultural and recreational resources are found on privately owned acres, many buffering the publicly owned Catskill Park, and the organization's report emphasizes those owners' role, along with town and county planners and other decision-makers, in determining where growth occurs.
Individually, for each of the four counties, the report found:
- Ulster County is the most developed of the four counties (7 percent of its land area). It also contains the most conserved lands (32 percent), and the least amount of preferred growth area (11 percent).
- A full 83 percent of Sullivan County's open space resources are in private ownership. The county also contains the greatest percentage (30 percent) of preferred growth area in the region, much of it concentrated in the center of the county, alongside existing infrastructure, like schools, roads, water and sewer services, and emergency facilities.
- Delaware County is the least developed of the four counties (only 4 percent of its land), and, despite significant regulatory and physical obstacles, it can increase development more than 6.5 times without directly affecting its open space resources.
- Twenty-four percent of Greene County is already conserved. Six percent of the county is developed, and it contains enough preferred growth area to triple that figure.
"OSI's study will serve as a blueprint as we consider how to direct sustainable growth in Sullivan County," said Luiz Aragon, commissioner of the Sullivan County Division of Planning and Environmental Management. "The data shows that Sullivan County towns contain a significant amount of preferred growth area and therefore will be highly instrumental in supporting development in the entire region."
Overall, the four-county Catskill region encompasses 2.7 million acres, 530,000 of which are already conserved and 140,000 of which are developed. After accounting for state and federal zoning regulations and physical obstacles, the region still contains more than 520,000 acres within which development could occur without negatively impacting the 1.6 million acres of significant open space resources.
"The Catskill region, from the Shawangunks to the Catskill Park, has been adored for generations for its natural resources, but it's also home for tens of tens of thousands of people who need to make a living," said OSI CEO Kim Elliman. "For decades, the Catskills has looked for drivers for economic development. It is clear that well-placed, sustainable development is essential alongside conservation to assure a healthy future that supports the residents of this region while respecting and protecting its incomparable natural beauty."