Chapter 10 | Decisions that Change the Land


Local governments make plans for public and private lands. Those plans are most important when someone proposes to change the use or development of a piece of land. Local governments make some decisions to change the use of land – such as when they build new roads or new convention centers or libraries. Most decisions to change the land, however, start with private developers. This chapter discusses the role of land developers and builders in the implementation of plans.


  1. Learn something about the prices of vacant land around your community. Read newspaper ads or go to a local real estate office and ask to review the listings of vacant land. If there are “for sale by owner” signs on land around the community, call some of those owners and ask what price they are asking per acre. Can you find any relationship between their asking prices and other data that you have? What?
  2. You have just taken a job with a major (and very responsible) developer of shopping centers. You have been assigned to find a site of at least 60 acres in your community. What would you look for? Is a good site available? What extra expenses would be necessary to make that site suitable for your new employer’s purposes?
  3. Now undertake the same exercise for a big housing developer seeking a location for a large new project of houses that will be reasonably affordable for families with parents in their thirties. You need a site of at least 60 acres, but the company would accept a site of up to 120 acres. What would you look for? Is a good site available? What extra expenses would be necessary to make that site suitable for your new employer’s purposes?
  4. Ask a representative of a developer or real estate investor in your community to come to class and talk about how he or she makes decisions that change land. Ask their opinions of the community’s future land-use map.

Discussion Questions

  1. Do developers in your community seem to be following the future land-use plan? If not, why do you think they are not following it? This is an important question, to which the answer may not be as simple as you think—ask a developer.
  2. Get out the exercises that you did for chapter 6, dealing with the future land-use plan. Do your initial recommendations still make sense? What would you change after reading this chapter and undertaking the exercises suggested above?


Here are websites of a sampling developers and homebuilders

  • Buckingham Companies, an Indianapolis-based company that develops and manages apartment communities
  • Centex, a large-scale homebuilder, often serving the moderate-price, suburban market
  • Forest City Enterprises, a Cleveland-based company that develops apartments, planned communities and retail projects
  • The Irvine Company, a company that began by turning the former Irvine Ranch between Los Angeles and San Diego into what is now Irvine, California, and that continues to engage in a range of development activities
  • Simon Property Group, an Indianapolis-based company that develops and manages shopping malls and lifestyle centers throughout the United States and in other parts of the world
  • St. Joe Company, a major timber company that is gradually developing some of the land that it originally held for forestry; primarily develops in Florida
  • Toll Brothers, a New Jersey-based luxury home builder
  • Trammel Crow, a Texas-based company that started out developing modern industrial parks but that now develops and manages a broad range of projects

Supplemental Resources

There are two excellent national organizations that serve the development industry. Both have useful websites and both publish books, reports, and periodicals that are helpful both to their members and to planners and public officials who work with their members.

  • National Association of Home Builders; this organization primarily serves individual home builders, some of whom simply build houses, but some of whom are also developers. In its conferences and publications, the organization deals with development as well as construction issues.
  • Urban Land Institute; typical members of the Urban Land Institute are very large developers and the designers and consultants who work with them. The organization has funded a significant amount of research on issues like growth management and smart growth.

Common Search Terms

Use these terms in search engines to find additional examples and other resources:

Real estate developers, land developers, home builders, homebuilders