What is Conservation Development?

Mary McMahon

Conservation development is an approach to development that is designed to preserve open space, whether for farming or for the natural environment, in addition to providing housing. A number of communities have mechanisms in place to support conservation development, also called cluster development. Firms that specialize in this technique can be found working in many regions of the world, including consulting in communities that want to build support for conservation into their planning codes.

Woman posing
Woman posing

Historically, development in new sites was limited by strict rules about lot size, setbacks, and other matters. The result was uniform developments that often sprawled across the landscape. This had profound environmental impacts and such “cookie cutter” developments, as they were sometimes called, were also not necessarily very aesthetically enjoyable. Conservation development is organized in a very different way.

Instead of dividing a swath of land into uniform lots, the developer surveys the land to identify unique features like waterways, trees, and geological formations. These are mapped out, and clusters of compact lots are drawn in. The same number of houses can be built, but instead of sprawling, they are situated in dense groupings scattered across the land. This allows for the preservation of open space and also creates views of the natural environment for residents of the homes.

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This approach to real estate development is designed to be a more ecologically friendly form of land use. In communities that allow conservation development, the usual planning code rules about lot sizes can be adjusted to allow for the creation of smaller lots. Some regions may offer what is known as a density bonus, actually increasing the number of homes allowed on a development if the developers commit to density in development.

In addition to featuring homes, a conservation development can also include a retail district. The development may be designed as a self-enclosed community, with highly walkable streets, businesses that meet basic needs so people do not have to drive somewhere for simple supplies, and other measures designed for welfare and safety.

This type of development in rural areas preserves farmland and can also preserve habitat for wildlife. Linking developments together to create chains of trees and other protected land in the form of a belt that wanders through several developments is another tactic that can be used for conservation. Combined with energy-efficient homes and environmentally friendly building practices, such developments can have a very low environmental impact.

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