Who can implement this: County and city officials, agricultural producers, and developers
Urbanization and the preservation of agricultural land do not have to be mutually exclusive. In fact, smart development and growth can be synonymous with the preservation of open spaces and agricultural lands loved by Utah County residents. Cluster development is the concentration of small-scale development in a smaller portion of a designated tract of land. Cluster development preserves contiguous tracts of farmland or open space through easement, covenant, or deed restriction.
While the gross density on a parcel of land remains the same, overall lot sizes are reduced in order to set aside acreage for conservation. Instead of developing 40 one-acre lots on 40 acres of land, for example, a developer may instead conserve 20 acres for agricultural use and develop 40 half-acre lots on the remaining 20 acres of land. Permitting flexible lot sizes and adjusting minimum lot size requirements makes this type of clustering possible. Noncontiguous clustering is another strategy, in which the development from two or more parcels of land is clustered onto one lot, preserving the remaining parcels as farmland or open space.
Farm owners looking to sell some of their land can look into cluster development as a way to cash in on some of the value of their land while still preserving much of the functioning farmland. If clustered growth is developed correctly on a large parcel, farming operations can continue despite added development.
- Individual city councils and the Utah County Commission should incentivize (or even require) cluster development when accepting subdivision plats. If necessary, cities should also provide density bonuses to encourage developers to adopt a cluster model.
- City lawmakers and planners should explore the benefits of cluster development in their municipalities. Preserving open space and encouraging compact development through annexation and zoning allows cities to preserve their natural resources while retaining the tax revenues and other social and economic benefits of urban growth.
- Developers should create compact communities and preserve agricultural lands and open space wherever possible. The benefits of clustering growth are self-evident for developers; houses near large amounts of open space are almost always worth more than houses that are not.
Farmington City, Utah, has a specific cluster development ordinance. The ordinance focuses on conserving land, preserving contiguous tracts of land, reducing erosion, and preserving vegetation of existing slopes and natural areas.
In an effort to reduce the loss of open spaces and agricultural lands, New Jersey passed a law in 2013 that gives municipalities authority to promote cluster development. The law allows municipalities to offer benefits to landowners and developers who promote noncontiguous clustering. This law, as well as others, helps reduce construction costs of infrastructure and encourage the more efficient use of taxpayer money.