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Lot Size, Zoning, and Household Preferences: Impediments to Smart Growth?


  • Kopits, Elizabeth
  • McConnell, Virginia

    () (Resources for the Future)

  • Miles, Daniel


The paper explores a number of issues related to lot size and urban density. First, trends in single-family residential lot size over the past 35 years are examined in eight counties in the state of Maryland. We find that there was a trend toward larger lot sizes in many suburban counties in the mid to late 1990s, and that there has been a general flattening of the density gradient in urban areas over the last few decades. We then examine the extent to which lot size is being constrained by regulation by comparing actual subdivision density to the allowable density under zoning rules. This analysis is done for three counties with different degrees of suburbanization. We find that only in the areas with the very large lot zoning does zoning seem to be constraining actual lots size. There is a good deal of excess capacity in the density that could be built, especially in the more densely zoned areas. Finally, recognizing that households have preferences for lot size and other housing characteristics, we provide some evidence about the strength of household preferences over lot size and their willingness to trade off lot size for other characteristics.

Suggested Citation

  • Kopits, Elizabeth & McConnell, Virginia & Miles, Daniel, 2009. "Lot Size, Zoning, and Household Preferences: Impediments to Smart Growth?," Discussion Papers dp-09-15, Resources For the Future.
  • Handle: RePEc:rff:dpaper:dp-09-15

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. G. Sirmans & Lynn MacDonald & David Macpherson & Emily Zietz, 2006. "The Value of Housing Characteristics: A Meta Analysis," The Journal of Real Estate Finance and Economics, Springer, vol. 33(3), pages 215-240, November.
    2. Edward L. Glaeser & Joseph Gyourko & Raven E. Saks, 2005. "Why Have Housing Prices Gone Up?," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 95(2), pages 329-333, May.
    3. Marcy Burchfield & Henry G. Overman & Diego Puga & Matthew A. Turner, 2006. "Causes of Sprawl: A Portrait from Space," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 121(2), pages 587-633.
    4. Elizabeth Kopits & Virginia McConnell & Margaret Walls, 2008. "Making Markets for Development Rights Work: What Determines Demand?," Land Economics, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 84(1), pages 1-16.
    5. Virginia McConnell & Elizabeth Kopits & Margaret Walls, 2006. "Using markets for land preservation: Results of a TDR program," Journal of Environmental Planning and Management, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 49(5), pages 631-651.
    6. McDonald, John F., 1989. "Econometric studies of urban population density: A survey," Journal of Urban Economics, Elsevier, vol. 26(3), pages 361-385, November.
    7. William A. Fischel, 2004. "An Economic History of Zoning and a Cure for its Exclusionary Effects," Urban Studies, Urban Studies Journal Limited, vol. 41(2), pages 317-340, February.
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    Cited by:

    1. Gottlieb, Paul D. & O’Donnell, Anthony & Rudel, Thomas & O’Neill, Karen & McDermott, Melanie, 2012. "Determinants of local housing growth in a multi-jurisdictional region, along with a test for nonmarket zoning," Journal of Housing Economics, Elsevier, vol. 21(4), pages 296-309.
    2. Zabel, Jeffrey & Dalton, Maurice, 2011. "The impact of minimum lot size regulations on house prices in Eastern Massachusetts," Regional Science and Urban Economics, Elsevier, vol. 41(6), pages 571-583.

    More about this item


    land use; urban sprawl; density; lot size;

    JEL classification:

    • Q24 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Renewable Resources and Conservation - - - Land
    • Q28 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Renewable Resources and Conservation - - - Government Policy
    • R14 - Urban, Rural, Regional, Real Estate, and Transportation Economics - - General Regional Economics - - - Land Use Patterns

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