Balanced Development

How does a community balance conservation of natural resources with economic development?  Here are some of the tools that other locales have found successful:

Transfer of Development Rights (TDR) programs use market forces to simultaneously promote conservation in high value natural, agricultural, and open space areas while encouraging smart growth in developed and developing sections of a community.  Successful TDR programs have been in place throughout the country since 1980, and have protected tens of thousands of acres of farmland and open space.

In a TDR program, a community identifies an area within its boundaries which it would like to see protected from development (the sending zone) and another area where the community desires more urban style development (the receiving zone).   Landowners in the sending zone are allocated a number of development credits which can be sold to developers, speculators, or the community itself.  In return for selling their development credits, the landowner in the sending zone agrees to place a permanent conservation easement on his or her land.  Meanwhile, the purchaser of the development credits can apply them to develop at a higher density than otherwise allowed on property within the receiving zone.

TDR programs have the advantage of using free market mechanisms to create the funding needed to protect valuable farmland, natural areas, and other open space.  However, many people find TDR programs complex and administratively challenging, requiring the local unit of government to make a strong commitment to administering a potentially complicated program and educating its citizens and potential developers.  TDR programs must be combined with strong comprehensive planning and local controls in order to be successful.

The basic principle of open space subdivisions (cluster development) is to group new homes onto part of the development parcel, so that the remainder can be preserved as unbuilt open space. The degree to which this accomplishes a significant saving of land, while providing an attractive and comfortable living environment, depends largely on the quality of the zoning regulations and the expertise of the development designer (preferably someone experienced in landscape architecture).

The open space can also be used for more active recreational facilities, native habitat for wildlife or plantings, agricultural production, or other allowable purposes. The landowner and Planning and Zoning Commission jointly determine how the open space will be used while the subdivision proposal is being approved.

In most of these developments, each homeowner has equal access to the open space areas. In some cases, the open space may be designed such that the whole community can share its use. Even if access is limited, the community often shares in the overall benefits of open-space preservation.

A homeowners’ association is usually responsible for protecting and maintaining the open space. When necessary, the community also may have the authority to enforce the open-space provisions approved in the plan agreement.

A good resource for information on open space can be found in Jim Gibbon’s article at the link below:

Windsor’s 2015 Plan of Conservation and Development indicates that the town promotes open space subdivisions/clustered development through regulatory means.  See page 4-14 (regulatory flexibility):  Windsor already provides for open space development patterns where homes are clustered on one part of the parcel so that significant open space can be provided on another part of the parcel. One possible method of increasing its use is to permit open space/cluster subdivisions as of right, or perhaps require a special use for more conventional subdivisions.

Plan of Conservation and Development