The Problem

“If we stay on this trajectory, 100 years from now, national parks and wildlife refuges will be like postage stamps of nature on a map. Isolated islands of conservation with run-down facilities that crowds of Americans visit like zoos to catch a glimpse of our nation’s remaining wildlife and undeveloped patches of land. Now, that can’t — and won’t — happen. But we, as a country, need to make a major course correction in how we approach conservation to ensure a bright future for our public lands and waters.”
-Interior Secretary Sally Jewell

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1. There is no school or college degree for developers or home builders (a land use expert told us this once and it rang true). The barrier to entry is very low. See “The Seven Deadly Sins of Home Building“. Home builders do not have the design skills to build attractive, charming houses-a good architect is a necessity. Even if developers and home builders have the best of intentions, 99% of of them have no first hand experience in designing great neighborhoods. Most have never visited great neighborhood designs, like Sugar Creek Preserve, across our nation. In addition, the majority of developers and home builders don’t have experience with anything beyond dull cookie cutter cookie cutter subdivisions.

2. Officials not educated in good land use planning. Most elected or appointed municipal officials have no experience in land use planning or innovative subdivision design, and this includes volunteer planning commission members. In addition, because most university planning course offer little or no design instruction, most land planners do not have this important skill-set. Recognizing this, some communities strive to include at least one landscape architect on their planning staff. To help solve this problem, we provide our FREE Planning Commission Boot Camp.

3. Outdated land use and subdivision ordinances. Most land-use ordinances in America are outdated and require developers to create homogeneous cookie-cutter style subdivision that eventually turn communities into “wall-to-wall development.” For example, many ordinances in unsewered areas require two-acre house lots. This will ensure that the entire parcel of land is chopped up into two acre house lots with lawns, streets, and driveways conserving only the unbuildable land (wetlands, steep slopes, floodplains) which could not be developed in any case.

To keep communities attractive, ordinances should be updated to require neighborhoods where where a significant percentage of the buildable land is preserved as permanant open space, according to land use expert Randall Arendt. This result is achieved in a “density-neutral” manner that respects the equity of landowners and the rights of developers to create the full number of houselots allowed under current zoning while also preserving natural lands, protecting clean water and community character, and creating a more profitable development. This technique also works in sewered areas where densities are higher, but in those cases the open space percentage is usually in the 30-40% range (rather than in the 50-60% range in rural areas)

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Many elected officials are not motivated to update ordinances-it means more work. The entrepreneurial mindset needed to change the status quo is often lacking in local governments and municipalities.

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5. Myths. There are many myths, including:

  • 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 subdivision developments we are proposing 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.
  • Read more myths.



Example of good development (in image above). House tucked into the land at Tryon Farm, a preservation development neighborhood in Michigan City, Indiana that sets aside 120 of the 170-acres as open space. Image courtesy Tryon Farm.


On the SAME 130-Acre Site with the SAME Number of Home Sites (55)

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Conventional Cookie-Cutter Subdivision Vs. Better Neighborhood (click on image to enlarge)
Conventional Cookie-Cutter Subdivision (above left) with 2 acre house lots and 55 home sites on a 130 acre site. Conservation subdivision (above right) with just under 3/4 of an acre, 30,000 sq. ft., house lots with 55 home sites the same 130 acre site. This innovative conservation subdivision preserves almost two-thirds of the site, 62%, 81 acres. Photo courtesy LandChoices, and Randall Arendt, “Conservation Design for Subdivisions”, Island Press, 1996.

Sugar Creek Preserve

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Entrance to Sugar Creek Preserve.


Sugar Creek Preserve site plan. Originally zoned for 52, 5 acre house lots, the property was destined under conventional zoning to become filled with lawns, homes and streets.

When was the last time you saw an undeveloped lake in a neighborhood?
Sugar Creek Preserve is a conservation subdivision designed by Randall Arendt to meet the conservation subdivision ordinance in Walworth County, Wisconsin, which he helped write. Approximately 177 acres of the 260 acre property, over 69% of the site, is permanently preserved as open space, including a lake, pond and stream, with a conservation easement with a local land conservancy. Homes are strategically placed for great views, privacy and maximum value.

The 52 lots are the same number of lots that could have been built using conventional “cookie-cutter” subdivison design and range from 40,510 sq. ft. (.93 acres) to 187,448 SF (4.3 acres) with the average being 53,500 sq. ft. (1.3 acres). The proposed density yields 1 home site for every 5 acres of land.

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The three photos above are of Sugar Creek Preserve, a conservation neighborhood just north of Lake Geneva, WI. 52 home sites are situated on 260 acres, with over 170 acres permanently preserved as open space with restored wildflower meadows, sparkling streams, a pond, hardwood forests & over 3 miles of walking trails. The entire lake shore is undeveloped and permanently protected.

Why You Need a Qualified Architect-A Builder is NOT an Architect

Architect vs Builder Home (2)

Example of a large home that has character and charm designed by an architect (left). What happens when you don’t use an architect (right). Read “The Seven Deadly Sins of Home Building” (pdf)


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There is a reason so many new homes look out of character with their surroundings. Read “The Seven Deadly Sins of Home Building” (pdf)