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From the Spinal Column Newsweekly

Land use advocate calls for conservation subdivisions

Brooke Meier

June 18, 2008 - Memories of his childhood and a shocking discovery later in life have prompted LandChoices founder and president Kirt Manecke to advocate for conservation subdivision developments.

When Manecke was a child he enjoyed hiking with his mother in the forest near his home in Orchard Lake Village.

"Growing up, I remember walking the beautiful rolling farm fields and forests across from our home. I came home from college one weekend and was heartbroken to see land clear-cut and scraped flat for a new subdivision," he said.

As a result, Manecke founded LandChoices, based in Milford; and recently launched the "Supersize My Backyard" campaign to promote and educate people about conservation subdivisions.

"Most people, especially those looking to build their dream home, just assume their land choices are limited to a little square plot in a sparsely-treed subdivision," said Manecke.

The Supersize My Backyard campaign is aimed at shattering the notion that conventional style subdivision developments need to be the American standard, when better, less invasive methods exist, according to Manecke. He said conventional subdivisions are the types that most people see. They are built in a grid pattern and only the land that is unbuildable is left untouched.

Manecke said the Woods of Orchard Lake, the subdivision that destroyed his childhood forest, is a great example of a conventional subdivision.

"Planners sit down, draw the lines for the roads and then start filling in areas where lots can go," he said. "They look like checkerboards."

Manecke is pushing for subdivisions to be built in a whole different fashion.

"Conservation subdivisions are the total opposite of conventional subdivisions," he said. "When planners map out conservation neighborhoods they look at the property, mark what is most pleasing to the eye, whether it's buildable land or not, and then build around what is marked off. These subdivisions preserve 50 to 70 percent of the land with the same maximum number of lots you'd have with a conventional style subdivision."

The lots are a little smaller in size when compared to conventional lots, but Manecke said they sell faster and for more money because of the great views, maximum privacy and the other amenities that come with conservation lots. These include lakes, wetlands and hiking and biking trails.

"It's like living in a national park. You can go outside to your backyard and cross country ski in the winter if you like," Manecke said.

Despite what some planners and developers think, Manecke said conservation subdivisions aren't more costly and less profitable than conventional subdivisions.

"A lot of people think that because the lots are smaller they won't sell," he said. "That's simply not true. Look at lake lots."

A study by Rayman Mohamed at Wayne State University showed that conservation subdivisions are more profitable, less costly and faster selling than standard subdivisions.

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

"Everyone can benefit from conservation subdivisions," said Milford real estate agent Rhett Reader. "It's hard to sell someone a home when you take them to the site and they have to do all the work like add trees and grass because it's just dirt. Conservation subdivisions have what everyone wants. They want nature and to be near wildlife."

Manecke said he hopes the campaign will inform and educate residents about the benefits of conservation subdivisions, like less water pollution from storm runoff and the destruction of trees.

Many confuse cluster subdivisions with conservation subdivisions because they try to save land. This, Manecke said, is a common misconception.

According to Manecke, clustering is outdated and doesn't save nearly as much land as conservation subdivisions.

"Pushing all the homes to one side to save land prevents the interconnection of other conservation subdivisions," he said. "Conservation subdivisions are totally different from cluster subdivisions.

"It really goes against conventional thinking so I hope the residents can take action and make the changes. It's something that's needed, not necessarily easy."

"I wouldn't support it if it wasn't good for my customers," Reader said. "I think conservation subdivisions with more energy-efficient homes would be perfect. I think that when we do make that turn, the demand will be there."


Brooke Meier is a staff writer for the Spinal Column Newsweekly

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