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The impact of large-lot zoning and open space acquisition on home building in rural communities


  • Gottlieb, Paul D.
  • O'Donnell, Anthony
  • Rudel, Thomas
  • O'Neill, Karen
  • McDermott, Melanie


Local governments in the United States use a wide range of tools to preserve rural landscapes. Some of these tools, like the purchase or transfer of development rights, are generally welcomed by farmers and other large landowners. Other tools, like increasing the minimum lot size in a town’s agricultural zone, are more controversial because they are believed to have negative effects on landowner wealth. In this contentious policy environment, it would be useful to know which land use tools actually work to control residential growth, thus achieving the consensual objective of rural preservation. It is reasonable to suppose that large-lot zoning and open space preservation will both reduce the number of homes in a community when it is fully developed. The short and medium-term effects of these policies, however, are less certain. Indeed, there is some evidence that permanently-preserved open space increases short-run home building through an “amenity magnet” effect. Similarly, an increase in minimum lot size could trigger the immediate development of agricultural land by reducing the option value of waiting. This study uses data on 83 communities in the Highlands region of New Jersey to help answer these questions about the unintended consequences of these two rural conservation tools. The dataset includes GIS-based information on developable land, open space inventory, and minimum lot size zoning for the period 1995 to 2002. The study concludes that the relationship between minimum lot size and homebuilding in a community can be described as a concave quadratic. The pace of homebuilding rises to a maximum at a weighted average minimum lot size of 4.15, and then starts to fall. The percentage of a community that is permanently-preserved open space was found to have no significant effect on homebuilding, other things equal.

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  • Gottlieb, Paul D. & O'Donnell, Anthony & Rudel, Thomas & O'Neill, Karen & McDermott, Melanie, 2009. "The impact of large-lot zoning and open space acquisition on home building in rural communities," 2009 Annual Meeting, July 26-28, 2009, Milwaukee, Wisconsin 49310, Agricultural and Applied Economics Association.
  • Handle: RePEc:ags:aaea09:49310

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Mayer, Christopher J. & Somerville, C. Tsuriel, 2000. "Land use regulation and new construction," Regional Science and Urban Economics, Elsevier, vol. 30(6), pages 639-662, December.
    2. Cheshire, Paul & Sheppard, Stephen, 1998. "Estimating the Demand for Housing, Land, and Neighbourhood Characteristics," Oxford Bulletin of Economics and Statistics, Department of Economics, University of Oxford, vol. 60(3), pages 357-382, August.
    3. Elena G. Irwin, 2002. "Interacting agents, spatial externalities and the evolution of residential land use patterns," Journal of Economic Geography, Oxford University Press, vol. 2(1), pages 31-54, January.
    4. Carmen Carrión-Flores & Elena G. Irwin, 2004. "Determinants of Residential Land-Use Conversion and Sprawl at the Rural-Urban Fringe," American Journal of Agricultural Economics, Agricultural and Applied Economics Association, vol. 86(4), pages 889-904.
    5. Thorson, James A., 1997. "The Effect of Zoning on Housing Construction," Journal of Housing Economics, Elsevier, vol. 6(1), pages 81-91, March.
    6. Irwin, Elena G. & Bell, Kathleen P. & Geoghegan, Jacqueline, 2003. "Modeling and Managing Urban Growth at the Rural-Urban Fringe: A Parcel-Level Model of Residential Land Use Change," Agricultural and Resource Economics Review, Cambridge University Press, vol. 32(01), pages 83-102, April.
    7. Brian Roe & Elena G. Irwin & Hazel A. Morrow-Jones, 2004. "The Effects of Farmland, Farmland Preservation, and Other Neighborhood Amenities on Housing Values and Residential Growth," Land Economics, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 80(1), pages 55-75.
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    More about this item


    Land use; Farmland preservation; Zoning; Housing; Community/Rural/Urban Development; Land Economics/Use; R52; R14; R31;

    JEL classification:

    • R52 - Urban, Rural, Regional, Real Estate, and Transportation Economics - - Regional Government Analysis - - - Land Use and Other Regulations
    • R14 - Urban, Rural, Regional, Real Estate, and Transportation Economics - - General Regional Economics - - - Land Use Patterns
    • R31 - Urban, Rural, Regional, Real Estate, and Transportation Economics - - Real Estate Markets, Spatial Production Analysis, and Firm Location - - - Housing Supply and Markets

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