Land Values

Dec 16, 1998 at 12:00 am

A ballot committee backed by home builders outspent committees backed by environmentalists and farm bureaus by nearly 60 percent in defeating a land conservation proposal in Washtenaw County.

Defeated was Proposal 1 -- a proposed 0.4 mill levy for 10 years that if approved, was to be used in a multilevel attack on suburban sprawl.

According to the Washtenaw County clerk's office, post-campaign finance reports show that in opposing Proposal 1, Washtenaw Citizens for Responsible Growth (WCRG) spent $329,413. By contrast, the two ballot committees backing the proposal -- Save Our Land, Save Our Future and Farmers for Farmland Preservation -- spent a total of $229,881, according to the county clerk's office.

However, according to Ecology Center Director Mike Garfield, the combined expenditures by the proposal's supporters really added up to only $208,381 because Farmers for Farmland Preservation gave $21,500 to Save Our Land, Save Our Future.

The Ecology Center is one of about a dozen environmental groups that backed Proposal 1.

The proposal's most controversial element was the purchase of development rights, which would have involved using some of the proposed tax revenue to compensate owners of qualified land while keeping the development rights from being sold to builders.

Garfield, who was on Save Our Land, Save Our Future's steering committee, says of the home builders' ballot committee, "They had enough money to do a television and radio advertising blitz...Even with the money we had and the almost 600 volunteers we had, we could not counteract their message."

Garfield says 98 percent of the donations to WCRG came from "individuals or organizations directly related to the homebuilding industry." WCRG spokesperson Jeff Muir disputes that figure, but says more than half of what his ballot committee raised came from roughly 10 donors.

"Both campaigns I'm sure brought in the majority of their money from a minority of donors," Muir says. "Our largest donations came from associations, as did theirs."

Both sides say they'll continue to fight -- and presumably seek funds -- for their causes.