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Frequently Asked Questions about Conservation Subdivisons

Isn't a conservation subdivision just one more type of "sprawl"?

Conservation subdivisions are not the cause of sprawl. Low-density residential zoning that covers the countryside is the cause of sprawl.

Perhaps the question is best answered in the quote below:
Most of the development in the United States, 90 percent or something like that, is new development on the edge. If we ignore that and just concentrate on infill, the edge city will never repair itself...It would be a mistake for people who care about cities and urban design to assume that any greenfield development is bad—because it’s going to happen, and if it doesn’t improve it will overwhelm whatever infill we are doing in the cities.

—Milwaukee Mayor John Norquist, interview in Metropolis, October 2003

The fact is, development in our fringe areas is going to happen, and we can either continue with look-alike, soulless subdivisions that often destroy the very features they are named after, or we can make certain that whatever development happens in the future is done right, conserving natural resources and creating a high quality of life for the home buyers and residents of the greater region.

In addition, many developers stay away from infill development due to possible complications. From the May, 2008 issue of Professional Builder magazine: "That said, infill developments are tricky.

Steven Brock, founder and CEO of Brock Built in Atlanta says, 'Patience is the key. It's not like working in the suburbs. You have to deal with the city's bureaucracy and with the scrutiny of neighborhood associations. They can be tough, but their hearts are in the right place.'"

Is conservation subdivision design the same as clustering?

No. Clustering normally only preserves 25% to 30% of the land and this protected land often includes land that could not be built on, i.e. unbuildable wetlands, steep slopes and floodplains.

(A blanket statement stating a percentage, say 60% for example, of the GROSS land perserved as open space is problematic considering the variation in the amount of land on a given tract with environmental constraints - wetlands, floodplains, steep slopes - already restricting the buildability of the site.)

How do conservation subdivisions contain the same number of home sites as conventional subdivisions?

Homes are located on half (or less) of the land and the remaining property is preserved.

How is land permanently preserved in a conservation subdivision?

Normally a homeowner's association oversees stewardship to make certain the land is protected. Deed restrictions written into the master deed ensure preservation.

In cases where local land conservancies or land trusts are active, the land can be preserved permanently using a conservation easement. This is the most effective way to guarantee permanent protection of the land as a conservation easement is a legal agreement.

Who pays the taxes on the open space lands in a conservation subdivision?

Whoever owns the conservation land is responsible for taxes. In most cases the homeowner's association owns the conservation land and is responsible to pay the taxes. The taxes are normally the same rate as what a homeowner would pay in a conventional subdivision development. In some cases an individual landowner, or in rare cases a land trust or municipality, may own the conservation land and be responsible for the taxes.

Are homes in conservation subdivisions more expensive than in conventional subdivisions?

As conservation subdivisions are less costly to develop and homes are faster selling, homes and lots should be the same price as in conventional subdivisions. In some cases, because conservation subdivisions currently are rare and outdated ordinances make the developer take risks and more time to create a conservation subdivision, developers charge a premium for home sites. In some, the homes are high end and, just as in a conventional subdivision with high end homes, the developer charges more for high end homes.

LandChoices' plan is to make conservaiton subdivisions the standard development in America to make it easy for developers to create a conservation subdivision and take away the risk. This will naturally bring prices in line and affordable. It's all about economics.

As conservation subdivisions lot sizes may not be quite as large as in conventional subdivisions, aren't they harder to sell?

Studies point out that lots in conservation subdivisions sell faster than lots in conventional subdivisions. For example, lots on lakes and golf courses normally are a bit smaller and they are often the fastest selling real estate in our country.

Randall Arendt, the nation's foremost authority on conservation subdivisions and a member of LandChoices' Advisory Group defines conservation subdivisions as "The golf course development without the golf course."

Lot sizes in conservation subdivisions vary in size determined by market demand and the area.

In Sugar Creek Preserve, a conservation subdivision in southern Wisconsin, lot sizes range from 40,510 sq. ft. (.93 acres) to 187,448 SF (4.3 acres) with the average being 53,500 sq. ft. (1.3 acres).

Other conservation subdivisions offer lot sizes of 1 acre, 3/4 acre, 1/2 acre. In urban settings, lots can be 1/4 acre.

As most of the homes have views of open space, and access to these acres, the size of the yard becomes much less important.

Don't most home buyers want the large McMansion style home on the large lot?

America is seeing a surge of home buyers who want all the amenities they are used to, but also want a smaller home in order to reduce payments and upkeep, and free up more time to enjoy life.

Home buyers also want views of open space and access to parks and natural areas.

Myth: Conservation subdivisions increase density.

Reality: Conservation subdivisions have the same density and number of homes as zoning would allow with a conventional subdivision. They do not allow for higher density per acre, but simpy put the same number of homes as allowed in a conventional subdivision development in a smaller area.

According to noted planner Randall Arendt, some communities are misled by developers who tell the planners that they must have bonus densities or they will never use conservation subdivision design (developers falsely argue that smaller lots with quality open space do not sell for as much as larger ones without open space).

Arendt recommends density bonuses ONLY for things communities cannot legally require: public access to trails and open space, endowments for the open space, etc.

A conservation subdivision should NOT be confused with planned unit development (PUD), or traditional neighborhood design (TND), often called a "New Urbanism" community, where densities are greater and the percentange of open space is much less.

Myth: It costs too much to preserve forests, meadows and other dry, buildable natural lands.

Reality: Studies prove that setting land aside for natural areas costs less than clearing and grading that land.
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