A Catalog of Key Techniques
States can set the framework for addressing suburban sprawl, but most of the day-to-day
decisions that shape the physical arrangement of our communities occur at the local and
regional levels. This write-up provides a brief inventory of some of the key techniques
available to you as you work to address development issues in your community.
If a city or town implements strong development regulations in isolation, it may simply
deflect growth to neighboring jurisdictions. At the same time, if limits to growth are
only established on a regional scale, development may still sprawl within these
boundaries. As a result, an effective program to curb sprawl must operate at both the
local and regional levels simultaneously.
Public and private techniques exist to help you in this endeavor. Private tools are
generally most effective in protecting valuable resources such as natural areas and
farmland. Public techniques can be mobilized for a wider range of tasks, including the
establishment of community-wide systems for guiding development away from sensitive lands
to places that can better support it.
What follows is a list of some of the most useful development management tools. Note
that some of these techniques are only available to your community if your state passes
special enabling legislation authorizing their use.
LOCAL PRIVATE TOOLS
Conservation Easement: A legal agreement between a landowner and a public or
private conservation organization that protects natural or historic resources by
restricting the development of a property.
Land Trust: A private, non-profit organization that protects natural and/or
cultural resources by buying land, accepting conservation easements, and educating the
LOCAL PUBLIC TOOLS
Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance: A measure that makes approval of new
development contingent on the availability of the roads, sewers, and other infrastructure
needed to service it.
Agricultural Zoning: A technique that only allows development on lots of a
minimum size and restricts land uses such as large subdivisions that are incompatible with
Cluster Development: The practice of concentrating development on one section of
a property to facilitate the protection of another section of the parcel as open space or
Mixed Use Ordinance: An ordinance that encourages or requires the combining of
different land uses -- typically residential and commercial -- in a single development.
This is generally done to reduce the distance between uses and thereby reduce the amount
of auto travel needed to get from place to place.
Neotraditional Development: Development that draws on neighborhood and village
designs from the early part of the 20th century to create more interactive and livable
communities. Defining features include a grid system of streets, pedestrian-friendly
design, a mix of uses, and traditional architectural styles.
Transit-Oriented Development Guidelines: Standards that seek to strengthen
ridership on public transit by encouraging or requiring more compact mixed-use development
around transit stops.
REGIONAL PUBLIC TOOLS
Purchase of Development Rights (PDR): A program that protects important
resources such as farmland and open space by purchasing the development rights from
willing sellers. Under this arrangement, the buyer acquires only the development rights to
the land, while the seller retains all other rights, such as the right to privacy and the
right to lease or sell the land.
Tax Base Sharing: A program that seeks to reduce the difference in the relative
financial health of local governments in a region and thereby reduce competition for new
development. Typically, the communities pool a portion of the growth in the commercial,
industrial, and residential property tax base and then redistribute it based on an
Transfer of Development Rights (TDR): A technique that seeks to shift
development from important natural areas and resource lands to other areas that can better
support it. This is done by removing the development rights from the land where protection
is desired (the so-called sending zone) and allowing property owners to sell them on the
open market to developers who are then permitted to build at higher densities in another
location (the so-called receiving zone).
Urban Growth Boundary: A legally enforced dividing line that separates urban
land uses such as compact residential and commercial development from rural ones such as
farming and large lot residential development. When an urban growth boundary is
established, the land inside is generally upzoned to a higher density and the land outside
is generally down-zoned to a lower density. In addition, urban services are generally not
extended outside the line.
Urban Service District: The area within which urban services such as water and
sewer service are extended and outside of which they are not.
Further Reading on Community Planning Techniques:
Common Groundwork: A Practical Guide to Protecting Rural and Urban Land,
Institute for Environmental Education (1993). To obtain a copy, contact
Chadbourne & Chadbourne Associates at 216/543-7303.
Creating Successful Communities: A Guidebook to Growth Management Strategies,
Michael A. Mantell et al. (1990). To obtain a copy, contact Island Press at
Growth Management Principles and Practices, Arthur C. Nelson and James B.
(1995). To obtain a copy, contact the American Planning Association at
Land Use: Stewardship and the Planning Process, Vol. 10 in the Building
Sustainable Communities Series, The Global Cities Project (1993). To obtain a
copy, contact the Global Cities Project at 415/775-0791.
Saving America's Countryside: A Guide to Rural Conservation, Samuel Stokes et
al. (1989). To obtain a copy, contact your local bookstore.
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