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The Tools of Land-Use Planning

The comprehensive plan, as described in the preceding chapter, largely pertains to the pattern of land use. In this chapter we discuss the tools available to the municipality to effectuate its land-use plans. Essentially there are two broad categories of direct actions by which a municipality can shape its land- use pattern. These are (1) public capital investments and (2) land-use controls. Some land-use decisions, often very important ones, are determined by higher levels of government and other large players that are not a part of the municipal body politic. These decisions are discussed at the end of this chapter.


Although we devote more space in this chapter to land-use controls, in the long term, public capital investment is the more powerful shaper of the pattern of development. Public capital investment creates very powerful economic forces that shape development and, unlike land-use controls, public capital investments such as roads or bridges or water mains are there to stay for many decades.

Accessibility is the most important determinant of land value. Retailers want to locate where they are accessible to the maximum number of potential customers and also where they will be seen by the maximum number of potential customers. The builders of office buildings want to place the buildings where they are most accessible to potential employees and visitors. Manufacturers want easy access for workers and suppliers, and easy access to customers. Office operations need access to workers and to individuals and other firms with which they do business.

The most accessible sites will thus command the highest prices. And builders, seeking to make the most efficient use of an expensive resource (land), will develop most intensely on the most expensive land. Public expenditures on roads and highways, as well as other investments that determine accessibility, have a powerful effect on the pattern of land development. In a densely developed urban area, investment in mass transportation is a powerful shaper of land values and hence the pattern of development. In a place such as Washington, DC, where the Metro system is an important part of the total transportation picture, the building of a new stop may create hundreds of millions in land values. In a congested area the building of a parking structure may have a powerful effect on land values and the amount of development by rendering that location more accessible.

Public investment in water and sewer lines is another major shaper of the pattern of development. Without public water and sewer services, residential development is generally limited to single-family houses on fairly large lots. Commercial development is also comparably restrained. Thus the extension of water and sewer lines can produce great changes in the intensity of development.

Public investment in facilities such as schools and universities, airports, and harbor facilities can also be a major shaper of the land-use pattern. Public acquisition of parkland can also shape the land-use pattern, because permanently rendering some land undevelopable channels the flow of development.

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