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Environmental Regulation and Land Use Change: Do Local Wetlands Bylaws Slow the Conversion of Open Space to Residential Uses?

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  • Katharine R E Sims
  • Jenny Schuetz

Abstract

The conversion of open space land to residential, commercial, and industrial uses as cities develop is an issue of significant environmental concern. Local governments play a key role in land use decisions and can use a variety of policy tools to influence the rate of land use change or to permanently protect open space. An important but controversial form of local regulation in Massachusetts is local wetlands protection bylaws, which give towns and cities additional regulatory power over land near wetlands. This paper uses newly compiled information about land use regulations in towns and cities in eastern Massachusetts, in combination with data on land use changes and other community characteristics, to analyze the relationship between local wetlands bylaws and rates of conversion from open space to residential land uses between 1985 and 1999. We use variation in the timing of adoption of wetlands bylaws to examine possible effects on conversion rates, housing permits issued, and the ratio of land converted to residential use per new housing unit. We find that for communities with more than five percent of land area in wetlands, having a wetlands bylaw for the full extent of the 1985 to 1999 period is associated with an estimated 1.1–1.4 percentage point decrease in the rate of conversion of forest and agricultural lands to residential uses, after controlling for other factors. We find some evidence that wetlands bylaws may slow the rate of permitted single- and two-family housing units in cities and towns with more than five percent of land area in wetlands, but do not find that bylaws are associated with lower numbers of permits for all housing types. Finally, we find weak evidence that wetlands bylaws are associated with less land used per new unit of housing. Future research should further explore the question of how local regulation affects the spatial patterns of new housing and preserved open space.

Suggested Citation

  • Katharine R E Sims & Jenny Schuetz, 2007. "Environmental Regulation and Land Use Change: Do Local Wetlands Bylaws Slow the Conversion of Open Space to Residential Uses?," CID Working Papers 18, Center for International Development at Harvard University.
  • Handle: RePEc:cid:wpfacu:18
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Citations

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    Cited by:

    1. Katherine A. Kiel, 2007. "The impact of wetlands rules on the prices of regulated and proximate houses: a case study," New England Public Policy Center Working Paper 07-3, Federal Reserve Bank of Boston.
    2. Jenny Schuetz, 2008. "Guarding the Town Walls: Mechanisms and Motives for Restricting Multifamily Housing in Massachusetts," Real Estate Economics, American Real Estate and Urban Economics Association, vol. 36(3), pages 555-586, September.
    3. Jenny Schuetz & Rachel Meltzer & Vicki Been, 2009. "Silver Bullet or Trojan Horse? The Effects of Inclusionary Zoning on Local Housing Markets," Working Paper 8519, USC Lusk Center for Real Estate.

    More about this item

    Keywords

    environmental regulation; open space; land use; urban policy;

    JEL classification:

    • Q24 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Renewable Resources and Conservation - - - Land
    • 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
    • R52 - Urban, Rural, Regional, Real Estate, and Transportation Economics - - Regional Government Analysis - - - Land Use and Other Regulations

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