NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Land-Use Regulations Encourage Sprawl

March 10, 2003

Housing density limits imposed on developers in the Washington, D.C., area have contributed to sprawl, says the Washington Post, and accelerated the consumption of woods and fields and pushed developers outward in their search for home sites.

No other U.S. region of comparable size has protected so much land through the imposition of such rigid land-use regulations.

  • More than half of the land surrounding the nation's capital is now "protected" from typical suburban housing development.
  • Land use plans in 14 counties of Virginia and Maryland limit home builders to no more than one house on every three acres -- with some counties curtailing development even more.
  • The restrictions are supposedly aimed at preserving farmland, forests and meadows, but in practice have resulted in the loss of "open space."
  • "Rural" lots of six acres which have been set aside for just one residence, for example, would have accommodated 30 homes under typical suburban zoning.

The unintended consequence of pushing development further out is well illustrated in the Washington area -- where some commuters have built homes as distant from the city as West Virginia.

The 14 counties studied are composed of more than 6,000 square miles of land. Of that, 3,300 square miles have been designated as protected, with building limited to no more than one house per three acres.

Planners have long recognized that environmentalists' crusades for more "open space" does not stop development, but instead spreads it.

Source: Peter Whoriskey, "Density Limits Only Add to Sprawl," Washington Post, March 9, 2003.


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