Conservation Design Economics and Land Value Impact

Economics and Land Value

Although the environmental benefits of conservation design have been widely documented and accepted, there is often debate over the cost-effectiveness of implementing conservation design principles. Although at times conservation design principles may cost more when initially compared to conventional development, most often over time they actually cost less due to decreased infrastructure construction and maintenance as well as decreased landscaping maintenance. Several cost analysis and studies conclude that conservation design is at least cost competitive if not more cost effective than conventional design (Conservation Research Institute, 2005).

It is important to provide stakeholders such as developers and local officials with evidence to show these principles can be cost competitive. For most developers, conservation design is still perceived as "risky" if not for the perceived additional costs than for the additional time needed for zoning variances (Mohamed, 2006). However, conservation subdivisions can provide higher profits and marketability to developers and hold higher property values for buyers. Additionally conservation design lots are less expensive to build with a construction cost savings of up to 25% depending on the lot size and density (NIPC, 2003). To get a monetary estimate of this savings, the Economics of Conservation Subdivisions paper by Mohamed states "lots in conservation subdivisions cost on average about $7,400 less to produce than lots in conventional subdivisions."

Prairie Crossing and Tellabs are two examples in our region that have achieved positive economic gains from implementing conservation design despite being in different development sectors. Prairie Crossing, located in Grayslake, reported a $3,798 savings per lot in construction costs. This can be attributed to innovative stormwater management, reduced curb and gutter, reduced site paving and sidewalks and the use of natural landscaping. Also Tellabs Corporation, located in Naperville, reported a total savings of $564,473, or just over 12% associated with capital costs according to a pre-construction analysis comparing conservation design to conventional design for the same site. Although decreased site preparation accounted for almost having of the savings, integrated stormwater management also contributed to the savings through the collective use of bioswales, wetlands, and natural landscaping (Conservation Research Institute, 2005).

In general two conservation design techniques, clustered site design and naturalized stormwater management systems, seem to have the most consistent and straightforward cost benefits onsite. However the cumulative benefits and cost savings gained when combining multiple techniques often exceeds the individual benefits due to their integrated nature. In the 2005 Conservation Research Institute report, ten case studies were assessed based on their holistic conservation design portfolios and on average saved 36% over conventional design.