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Do Bylaws Matter?

Evaluating Conservation Subdivision Design

Elisabeth M. Hamin

June 2007, English

This research investigates what public and private purposes are being achieved in projects permitted as conservation or open space subdivisions. An expert panel evaluated nine conservation subdivision designs (CSD), and found that CSDs overall provide more ecologically functional designs than would occur under traditional subdivision layout. In particular, open space goals tend to be well-achieved, while other aspects such as creativity, housing diversity, and other public goods are less satisfactory. However, evidence suggests that underlying socioeconomic and planning board issues are more explanatory in overall quality of projects than the specific contents of individual CSD bylaws. Results of related research in other regions indicate that CSDs tend to occur in the direct path of development pressure, tend to increase rural sprawl, and occur under a wide spectrum of bylaws. The study finds that CSD outcomes could be improved through support for well-trained and empowered planning boards. Improvements in bylaws are recommended, including stronger design quality components, connection of open space to form habitat corridors, and development of clear evaluation rubric(s) that could help planning boards better negotiate for higher quality projects.