Regional Tool Kit: Residential Development

Affordable Housing Programs

Affordable Housing enjoys overwhelming support. However, when discussions of affordable housing projects begin, they are often met with local opposition.  Affordable Housing is not always subsidized housing.  Housing with a sale price or rent within the means of a low or moderate-income household should be made available throughout city districts to ensure that the city can house the full array of workers needed for the local economy  (Development Definitions, 14). 


“Highland Park Neighborhood in Birmingham, AL has a wide variety of housing options and a range of purchase and rental prices” (APA Great Neighborhoods).


Accessory Dwelling Units

A dwelling unit either attached to a single-family principal dwelling or located on the same lot and having an independent means of access.  Modern accessory dwellings are often built over the garage, which adds affordable housing inconspicuously to single-family housing areas (Smart Growth Manual, 12.10). It is beneficial for both parties as the home-owners gain additional income from rent and the renter gains more affordable housing at no cost to the government (Envision Utah, Housing Needs, 35).

Example:  Accessory dwelling units can provide an extra income source or allow elderly people to remain in their communities.  These units may provide a fiscal benefit to the owners or make life easier in other ways; whether grandma is looking after the children or a grown child is looking after an elderly parent, these units can solve problems that most families face (“Three Generations, Two Comfy homes a few steps apart”, New York Times, 2011).

Urban Service Boundary

An Urban Service Boundary is a defined region, not always coincidental with a municipality’s corporate boundary, which delineates the geographical limit of government-supplied public facilities and services (Development Definitions, 425).  This has the aim of encouraging efficient use of water and sewer lines, as well as other infrastructure systems.  It is less controversial than an Urban Growth Boundary because development may still take place outside the boundary as long as developers pay to install their own infrastructure.

Example: During the 1990s, a third of the building permits in Sarasota, FL were for homes in subdivisions started before 1960.  This was a result of the city’s Urban Service Boundary, because it was more cost efficient for the city and developers to fully utilize the entire established infrastructure in existing subdivisions before leapfrogging to the next greenfield site and paying for new infrastructure. (Florida Herald Tribune, January 30, 2002)

Infill Development

The development of new housing or other uses on scattered vacant sites in a built-up area (Development Definitions, 207).  The benefits of infill development include utilizing existing infrastructure, allowing residents to live closer to jobs and other opportunities, lessening development pressures on greenfield sites and helping to replace abandoned or out-of-date uses with new, high quality development.  Infill may also be the adaptive reuse of older buildings.  When considering infill projects, it is important to gather community involvement from nearby residents and businesses that will be affected by the new infill development.

Cluster Development

Cluster Development is a design technique that concentrates buildings on a part of the site to allow the remaining land to be used for recreation, common open space, and preservation of environmentally sensitive features.  This should not be used to subsidize a developer who buys land with a development constraint like steep slopes, wetlands, or floodplains, and expects the same profit as if the land were completely developable (Development Definitions, 79). This concept underlies the practice of Conservation Subdivision Design, an established technique for maximizing open space for residents while limiting infrastructure costs (The Smart Growth Manual, 5.12).

           Standard Subdivision                        Conservation Subdivision                                                                                            
In this example, the property owner is able to develop 18 residential parcels on each property. However, in the conservation subdivision, 50% of the land is preserved as open space, creating a natural buffer around a stream, protecting water quality and creating a significant natural area for all to enjoy (

Brownfield Redevelopment

Development of abandoned industrial and commercial facilities where expansion or redevelopment is complicated by real or perceived environmental contamination is known as Brownfield Redevelopment (U.S. EPA, cited in PAS Report 491/492). Often located in older urban areas but also evident in rural areas, brownfields offer potential opportunities for redevelopment in areas with a scarcity of vacant land.  Various levels of cleanup (expenses) are required depending on what the future use will be (Development Definitions, 55).  Cleanup costs of a brownfield depend on the future use of the site.  For example, lower cleanup costs would be required for the site to be developed into a parking garage or park than would be if the site was redeveloped into single-family housing. 


Developments with a variety of complementary and integrated uses, such as residential, office, manufacturing, retail, and recreation are often referred to as Mixed-Use Developments.  Downtowns and Central Business Districts are natural examples of mixed-use; however, newly planned mixed-use developments are gaining popularity.  Local zoning codes have adopted the Planned Unit Development, an area of at least 5 acres planned, developed, operated and maintained as a single entity and containing one or more residential clusters, which may include appropriate commercial or public civic spaces primarily for the benefit of the residents in the development (Development Definitions, 293).

Advantages of this type of development are gained from reducing traffic congestion by locating homes, jobs, retail and entertainment opportunities all within easy commuting.  A mixed-use development offers many activities within walking distance for those who do not drive (the young and the elderly) and people wishing to lower their transportation expenses.