Exclusionary Zoning, Sprawl on the Rise
July 21st, 2011 by Tim Evans
- A new study by Rowan University’s Geospatial Research Laboratory finds that municipal zoning in New Jersey has resulted in a land-use pattern that has grown substantially more exclusionary and more sprawling over the last two decades.
- Prior to 1986, residential development on lots of half an acre or larger accounted for 43 percent of total acres in residential use statewide. For the 1986-2007 study period, however, the share of newly developed residential land consumed by housing on large lots jumped to 67 percent.
- Absent further enforcement of the state Supreme Court’s Mount Laurel rulings, together with stricter adherence to land-use practices consistent with the State Plan, the study predicts that sprawl and housing segregation will worsen.
Zoning and Building Patterns Threaten Affordability, Sustainability
The Rowan study, titled Evidence of Persistent Exclusionary Effects of Land Use Policy within Historic and Projected Development Patterns in New Jersey [pdf], documents a trend toward more land-consumptive housing development since 1986, with fewer acres dedicated to compact residential neighborhoods with apartments, townhouses, and houses on smaller lots, and more acres occupied by large-lot subdivisions. The report found that the majority of land developed for residential uses over the study period occurred outside of the “smart growth areas” that the State Plan indicates as being most appropriate for development. What’s more, “Large-lot development is widespread even within smart growth areas,” accounting for 40 percent of the newly-developed acres there.
One bright spot in the Rowan study is the finding that commercial and industrial development has much more closely followed the prescription of the State Plan, even if not explicitly by design. A much higher share (80 percent) of total acres of job-related land development between 1986 and 2007 took place in “smart growth areas” than was true of residential development (only 48 percent). Unfortunately, the resulting mismatch between centrally-located jobs and more far-flung residences means longer commutes, more traffic, more greenhouse gas emissions and less community engagement among commuting workers.
In addition to examining statewide trends, the report featured case studies of Monmouth and Somerset counties, illuminating poor coordination between job and housing locations that will have negative consequences on the state’s economic recovery. The study found that a heavy emphasis on commercial and industrial zoning, as opposed to residential, would result in a jobs-to-housing ratio of nearly 7:1 in Monmouth County and more than 16:1 in Somerset County if all undeveloped land were built out as presently zoned. The ratio generally recognized as consistent with sound planning is 1½:1 (roughly corresponding to the average number of workers per household).
The report projected that if current zoning is followed, a large majority of future residential development in both counties will be large-lot subdivisions in even greater proportion than past patterns, and housing growth will lag far behind job growth. The report concluded that by consuming practically all remaining residentially zoned land statewide, large-lot subdivisions are locking in a residential land-use pattern that excludes many New Jersey households that cannot afford a large-lot single-family home.
“The grossly unbalanced pattern of predominantly large-lot residential development and comparatively little compact development being imposed on the New Jersey landscape has implications for future affordability of housing, as well as for the sustainability of the state as a whole,” the report warned.
The Rowan study was conducted under a research contract with the Fair Share Housing Center and funded by a grant from the Fund for New Jersey.