MYTH: “Residential development will lower property taxes by increasing the tax base.” (This misinformation is what most town and city officials and citizens mistakenly believe and base decisions on.)

TRUTH: Most residential development is a net LOSS to communities, requiring more in services than it pay in taxes. (Generally speaking, the only houses that pay their way in taxes are those in age-restricted communities, second homes that are never converted to year-round use, and extremely expensive houses. More than 80 Cost of Community Services Studies performed in all regions of the country have shown consistent results.) View Cost of Community Services Studies Fact Sheet (PDF)


“A ratio greater than 1.0 suggests that for every dollar of revenue collected from a given category of land, more than one dollar is spent on municipal services. A ratio less than one is read as a net profit for the municipality. Nearly all of the studies that have been undertaken show that the ratio for residential land is above 1.0, signifying that residential land results in a net drain on local government budgets. On the other hand, the ratios for the other two land use categories (commercial/industrial and farmland/open space) are usually well below 1.0, representing a net tax gain for the municipality.” From Cost of Community Services Studies.

Costs of Not Conserving Open-Space Land (From the Virginia Outdoors Foundation)
A number of localities have calculated the fiscal impacts associated with different types of land use and found that increased growth brings new area residents who require services — roads, sewage and water-supply infrastructure, fire and police services, schools, libraries, etc. — that increase local government costs at a level greater than the additional local revenue they contribute. “While it is true that an acre of land with a new house generates more total revenue than an acre of hay or corn, this tells us little about a community’s bottom line.” (American Farmland Trust, 2010)  Increased population density in a locality eventually requires increasingly complex public services that increase per capita costs.
Since the cost to a locality to provide services to undeveloped land is relatively low, a net positive tax cash flow is achieved. Conversely, the costs to provide schools for the children in housing developments plus other municipal costs may be much greater than the tax and non-tax revenue that residential lands provide.
A 2012 study in Albemarle County, Virginia, found that, for every dollar of local revenue generated, the public costs for residential and institutional (hospitals, libraries, churches) development range from $1.29 to $1.59, a negative ratio. Commercial and industrial uses have a positive ratio, around $0.50 in costs for every dollar of revenue generated, and farmland generates even greater surplus revenue at $0.20 in costs for every dollar of revenue generated; however, the revenue-cost ratios associated with residential properties create a net deficit for Albemarle County, and for most other localities.

MYTH: Open lands—including productive farms and forests—are an interim land use that should be developed to their “highest and best use.”
TRUTH: Open lands, working farmland and ranches, and forests, pay more in taxes than they require in services.


MYTH: “We can’t make as much money if we preserve some of the land and if the lots are not quite as large.” This misinformation is what most developers and home builders mistakenly believe.
TRUTH: The types of better subdivision developments we are proposing, termed “conservation subdivisions”, actually are proven more profitable, faster selling and less costly while providing the same number of home sites as conventional cookie cutter subdivision developments. Think golf course developments and lake homes-people pay more to have great views and privacy. The types of innovative developments we are proposing are also proven to have higher appreciation values.

tryon farm views

Views onto acres of protected land from a home at Tryon Farm, a conservation neighborhood in Michigan City, IN.

For more information, view the article, “Luxury-Home Developers’ Latest Pitch: Unspoiled Nature” in The Wall Street Journal.

MYTH: The developer originally asked the planning commission for ____ (fill in a high number) homes for his new subdivision and now is compromising at “only”  ____ (fill in a lower number, often a number hundreds of homes lower than original ask) homes.
TRUTH: This technique in sales is called the “weapon of contrast”. It is used often and very effectively by developers as residents and planning commission members mistakenly view this as a compromise by the developer and feel that the developer is generously giving up value. The truth is that the lower number is normally the target number of homes the developer originally wanted in the first place.

MYTH: “We’ve got large lot zoning and that will protect our rural lands and town character.”
TRUTH: Large lot zoning can do more harm than good in most cases. Although the intent may be to protect land, large lot residential zoning may waste land. Low density development, such as 10-acre lots, often mean that development will spread out into the countryside, requiring improved roads and increased sewer, water and other services that are costly to create and expensive to maintain. In addition, eventually this land is rezoned by developers into five, three, two, one and a half, and one acre lots, often by threat of litigation due to previous requests for rezoning being approved nearby due to poor planning commission decisions.





plot after

Conservation subdivision.







Conservation Subdivision Myths

MYTH: “Clustering” (shown at left) is the same as conservation subdivisions (shown right).
TRUTH: Clustering is an outdated process that normally only preserves 20% to 30% of the land, often including land that could not be built on in any case, i.e. unbuildable wetlands, steep slopes and floodplains.

MYTH: My subdivision has wetlands with a trail around them so I must live in a conservation subdivision.
TRUTH: No. Most wetlands are unbuildable. Conservation subdivisions preserve a large percentage of the BUILDABLE land (meaning land that could have been built on), PLUS the unbuildable wetlands.

MYTH: The developer of my subdivisions set aside a small park and a bit of land for walking paths, so I must live in a conservation subdivision.
TRUTH: Again, no.

MYTH: Conservation subdivisions are one more type of “sprawl” and encourage development in fringe areas.
TRUTH: Conservation subdivisions are proposed only when landowners or developers are already planning to subdivide a property. These developments are designed at the same low overall density that zoning requires in a particular district. Generally speaking, only two alternatives exist: either to develop large lots with no open space, or to develop smaller lots with significant open space. If a subdivision is proposed where the community does not wish to see development, the municipality usually has little choice except to offer to purchase it at fair market value. That approach of land-saving is so costly it cannot be sustained, but might be an option for a particularly significant parcel. Conversely, conservation subdivisions cost the public nothing, and do not diminish landowners’ income or developers’ profits as they allow the normal density allowed by zoning. Note: Conservation subdivisions can also be built in urban, sewered, high density areas zoned at 2-3-4 units per acre, preserving 40% open space, in addition to the unbuildable wetlands, floodplains, and steep slopes.

MYTH: Conservation subdivisions are not needed as most people are “returning to the cities.”
TRUTH: According to “Greenfield Development Without Sprawl: The Role of Planned Communities” from the Urban Land Institute:

“Most of the development in the United States, 90 percent or something like that, is new development on the edge. If we ignore that and just concentrate on infill, the edge city will never repair itself…It would be a mistake for people who care about cities and urban design to assume that any greenfield development is bad—because it’s going to happen, and if it doesn’t improve it will overwhelm whatever infill we are doing in the cities.”
— Milwaukee Mayor John Norquist interview in Metropolis, October 2003

comparisonMYTH: It costs too much to preserve land and trees in new subdivisions.
TRUTH: Studies prove setting natural areas aside costs less than clearing and grading land and providing infrastructure.

“Leaving land in its natural state or building trails through it is cheaper than building infrastructure or golf courses.”
Big Builder magazine– May 1, 2006

MYTH: Conservation subdivisions increase density.
TRUTH: Conservation subdivisions have the same density and number of homes as zoning allows with a conventional subdivision. They do not allow for higher density per acre, but simply put the same number of homes as allowed in a conventional subdivision development in a smaller area. Houses are rearranged to preserve over half of the buildable land.

home cedar vally

Home at Cedar Valley Ridge, a conservation community near Traverse City, MI.

MYTH: I have to live on a tiny lot in a conservation subdivision.
TRUTH: Lot sizes in conservation subdivisions vary in size determined by market demand and the area. Most conservation subdivisions offer lot sizes of 1/2 acre up to one or 1.5 acres. As most homes have views of open space, privacy, and access to these acres, the size of the yard becomes much less important.

MYTH: I can’t build as many homes in a conservation subdivision.
TRUTH: Conservation subdivisions allow the same number of home sites as zoning allows in a conventional subdivision.

tryon farm winter

A home at Tryon Farm, a conservation neighborhood in Michigan City, IN. “What would you rather look at? Trees, meadows, and wildlife, or your neighbor’s bbq, deck or garage door?” (land planner Randall Arendt).

MYTH: I can make more money by clear-cutting trees, grading land and filling property with houses and streets as in a conventional subdivision.
TRUTH: Studies prove homes in conservation subdivisions are more profitable, less costly and faster selling than conventional subdivision development.

From “The Economics of Conservation Subdivisions”:

  • “The results show that lots in conservation subdivisions carry a premium, are less expensive to build, and sell more quickly than lots in conventional subdivisions.
  • Together, the results show that conservation subdivisions are more profitable to developers than conventional subdivisions.
  • That lots in conservation subdivisions sold in about half the time as lots in conventional subdivisions must be advantageous to the cash flow of developers.
  • These numbers translate into premiums for lots in conservation subdivisions ranging from $13,000 to $18,000 per acre over lots in conventional subdivisions.”

MYTH: Most homebuyers want a large McMansion style home on a large lot.
TRUTH: Studies and actual cases point out that lots in conservation subdivisions sell faster than lots in conventional and large lot subdivisions. For example, lots on lakes and golf courses normally are a bit smaller and they often are the fastest selling real estate.

“America’s love affair with sprawling homes is showing signs of waning as the real-estate market softens and aging boomers seek smaller houses.”
The Wall Street Journal (June 16, 2006).


Tryon Farm, a conservation neighborhood in Michigan City, IN, that preserves 120 of the 170 acres. The acres of woodlands and meadows in the photo are preserved. 

MYTH: Conservation subdivisions don’t fit with the rural landscape.
TRUTH: When done properly, like the Fields of St. Croix, conservation subdivisions preserve rural character. With the right home builder, prairie style homes can be built that fit with rural character

couple looking at land

“Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.”
– Albert Einstein