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Conservation Subdivisions


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Frequently Asked Questions

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Conservation Subdivision

MYTH: "Clustering" is the same as conservation subdivisions.

TRUTH: Clustering is an outdated process that normally only preserves 25% to 30% of the land, often including land that could not be built on anyways, i.e. unbuildable wetlands, steep slopes and floodplains.

MYTH: Conservation subdivisions are one more type of "sprawl" and encourage development in fringe areas.

TRUTH: Conservation subdivisions are usually considered only when landowners or developers are already planning to subdivide a property.

Conservation subdivisions can be built in urban, sewered, high density areas zoned at 2-3-4 units per acre, preserving 40% open space, in addition to the unbuildable wetlands, floodplains, and steep slopes.

MYTH: Conservation subdivisions are not needed as most people are "returning to the cities."

TRUTH: According to "Greenfield Development Without Sprawl: The Role of Planned Communities" from the Urban Land Institute:

"Many see infill-adding households within revitalized city neighborhoods or inner-ring suburbs-as the responsible, resource-conscious way to meet the need.

But infill strategies, even if universally accepted, cannot happen fast enough or in great enough numbers to make much of a difference by 2025."

"Even if every prospective homebuyer and renter in America decided tomorrow to return to the city, the supertanker of population and suburban development would steam on for years before making much of a course of correction.

Despite the much-touted "return to the cities" of retirees, empty nesters, and young professionals, which is transforming older neighborhoods and business centers in many cities, experts believe this trend will capture only a relatively small proportion of  future development."

"Between 2003 and 2025, the United States is expected to grow by almost 58 million people-a Census Bureau forecast that roughly continues the average 2.75 million to 3 million-plus a year increase since 1980.
Even the most optimistic assumptions foresee accommodating at most 18 million or so of these new people through infill. That leaves at least 40 million to still be accommodated in some sort of new greenfield community."
Ed McMahon, a member of LandChoices, Fellow at the Urban Land Institute and one of our nation's top experts on land use. 

"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

In the 2009 study, "55+ Housing: Builders, Buyers, AND Beyond", by the National Association of Homebuilders and MetLife Mature Market Institute, the majority of the age 55+ respondents prefer a home in a suburb:

"Suburban Life Preferred: The majority of
respondents prefer a home in a suburb
, with 32% wanting to live in close-in suburbs and 31% in outlying suburbs. In comparison, 28% prefer a rural community, while only 9% want to live in a central city."

MYTH: It costs too much to preserve land and trees in new subdivisions.

TRUTH: Studies prove setting natural areas aside costs less than clearing and grading land and providing infrastructure. 

"Leaving land in its natural state or building trails through it is cheaper than building infrastructure or golf courses."
Big Builder magazine-- May 1, 2006

MYTH: Conservation subdivisions increase density. 

TRUTH: Conservation subdivisions have the same density as zoning allows with a conventional subdivision. It does not allow for higher density per acre, but simpy puts the same number of homes as allowed in a conventional subdivision development in a smaller area. Houses are rearranged to preserve over half of the buildable land.

A conservation subdivision is NOT a planned unit development (PUD) "New Urbanism" style community, or a "Traditional Neighborhood Design" (TND), where densities are greater. 

In a conservation subdivision, the local ordinance doesn't necessarily allow more houses on a particular tract of land; developers simply must set aside at least half of the buildable land. They can build the same number of houses on the property that's left. In the end, the development allows the same number of homeowners as a conventional subdivision.

MYTH: I have to live on a tiny lot in a conservation subdivision.

TRUTH: 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).

Many conservation subdivisions offer lot sizes of 1 acre, 3/4 acre or 1/2 acre. Some in urban settings offer 1/4 acre lots.

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

MYTH: I can't build as many homes in a conservation subdivision.

TRUTH: Conservation subdivisions allow the same number of home sites as zoning allows in a conventional subdivision. 

MYTH: I can make more money by clear-cutting trees, grading land and filling property with houses and streets as in a conventional subdivision.

TRUTH: Studies prove homes in conservation subdivisions are more profitable, less costly and faster selling than conventional subdivision development.

From "The Economics of Conservation Subdivisions":

"The results show that lots in conservation subdivisions carry a premium, are less expensive to build, and sell more quickly than lots in conventional subdivisions.

Together, the results show that conservation subdivisions are more profitable to developers than conventional subdivisions.

That lots in conservation subdivisions sold in about half the time as lots in conventional subdivisions must be advantageous to the cash flow of developers.

These numbers translate into premiums for lots in conservation subdivisions ranging from $13,000 to $18,000 per acre over lots in conventional subdivisions."

MYTH: Most homebuyers want a large McMansion style home on a large lot.

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

"America's love affair with sprawling homes is showing signs of waning as the real-estate market softens and aging boomers seek smaller houses."
The Wall Street Journal
(June 16, 2006).

MYTH: Conservation subdivisions don't fit with the rural landscape.

TRUTH: When done properly, like the Fields of St. Croix, conservation subdivisions preserve rural character. With the right home builder, prairie style homes can be built that fit with rural character.

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