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Enhancing Subdivision Value Through Conservation Design

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Enhancing Subdivision Value
Through Conservation Design

By Randall Arendt
LandChoices is fortunate to have the nation's foremost designer of Conservation Subdivisions in our advisory group. In this article, he explains the benefits and process of creating them. It first appeared in the National Association of Realtors' magazine, On Common Ground.


Special Places in Your Community

If you live in the suburban fringe or in a semi-rural area, chances are good that you are not far from a stream valley, wildflower meadow or patch of woods. Chances are also that many of these places will be unrecognizable 20 or 30 years from now, unless they are located in a public park, state forest or wildlife refuge, or unless they happen to be protected by conservation easements held by land trusts.

That is because most areas have adopted zoning and subdivision regulations whose principal purpose is to set rules for the orderly conversion of virtually all land that is dry, flood-free and flat to moderately sloping into developed properties. But that’s the nature of development, many would say. But is it? While the above scenario might seem to make short-term sense, over the long run, communities following in which to live and to experience a relative decline in property values. Fortunately, practical alternatives do exist, and this article describes a straight-forward way to ensure that new subdivisions are designed to appreciate more in value and to help communities retain their character and overall desirability. This better result can be achieved by designing new developments around the central organizing principle of conservation, according to a “greener vision” in which communities pre-identify and proactively protect an interconnected network of open space through creative approaches to land development. More good news:

The planning technique described here does not involve reliance on public funding sources and disturbing landowner equity or the ability of developers to build at the overall legal density permitted by local zoning on their parcel. This article describes a process that is both “a conservation-driven development approach” (in which conservation values determine subdivision layouts) and a “development-driven conservation approach” (in which developers can become the community’s largest conservationists). That they can do very well financially by doing good is one of the many benefits of this very sensible way of developing land.

"Twice Green" Results
Conservation subdivision designs are “twice green” because they succeed both environmentally and economically. One community in Livingston County, Michigan, which has implemented conservation design over the past decade, has protected more than 1,000 acres through this approach, representing a land value of at least $20 million (its protection cost through more conventional means). One of the author’s recent designs is credited by an Indiana developer as having added at least $20,000 of value to each of his lots, while still providing for full development density. And by respecting natural terrain and designing around existing site features on an 80-lot development in Texas, the author cut his developer-client’s grading costs by 83 percent (from $300,000 to $50,000), compared with a conventionally engineered plan.

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