What is a conservation subdivision?

Conservation subdivisions preserve a significant portion of a tract as open space and direct development away from natural, scenic, historic, and agricultural areas. The open space is typically preserved in perpetuity for the benefit of residents, the public, or as protected natural areas. While the terms "conservation subdivision," "cluster subdivision," and "open space subdivision" are sometimes used interchangeably, for the purposes of this guide, at least 50 percent of the original tract area must be preserved as undeveloped open space to be considered a conservation subdivision. To achieve this level of open space preservation, houses on the site must be located closer together and on smaller lots than found in conventional neighborhoods. Rather than having 50 homes on one acre lots spread over an entire 50-acre tract (conventional), they might be located on one-half or one-third acre lots allowing 25 to 30 acres of the lot to be preserved as open space.

Homes clustered around a scenic pond in Deerfield Knoll, a Conservation Subdivision in Willistown Township.

Conservation subdivision developments should be designed with specific results in mind, including harmonizing with the landscape, preserving natural and historic features, minimizing environmental and visual impacts, and providing continuity with off-site open spaces and greenways. A four-step design process that institutionalizes these results by determining first, what should be protected on a site, and then where development is most appropriate is detailed in the Conservation by Design section of ConservationTools.org. Using this or a similar design process is encouraged to achieve consistently low impact developments with a high quality of protected open space.