Cluster development is a subdivision control technique. It concentrates the overall maximum density allowed on a property onto the most appropriate portion of the property. Clustering a new subdivision helps to achieve certain municipal planning objectives. For example, natural features of significance (e.g. large trees, wetlands) can be protected, steep slope areas can be avoided, and open space can be preserved. Cluster development can result in reduced development expenses in terms of roads, sewer lines, and other infrastructure, as well as lower maintenance costs. A municipality that decides to enact subdivision cluster development provisions must follow the New York State enabling statutes as explained in the General City Law ß37, Town Law ß278, and Village Law ß7-738.
The State enabling statutes give the local governing body (e.g. Town or Village Board) the power to authorize a board or council (e.g. Planning Board) to oversee cluster development as part of the subdivision plat review. The governing body may require cluster development even before the filing of a plat. A "plat" is a map prepared by a professional and may include areas within which structures may be located, the height and spacing of buildings, open spaces and their landscaping, off-street open and enclosed parking spaces, streets, driveways, and any other features required by the Planning Board. However, the maximum number of units allowed on a parcel must be no greater than the number allowed under a conventional subdivision layout. In order to allow an increase in density, the municipality must adopt a zoning change in its Zoning Ordinance.
The State enabling statutes provide municipalities with the tools to effectively perserve local water resources and improve water quality. Cluster development may provide for more open space and recreational land, thus helping to better filter larger quantities of surface water before it reaches the groundwater level.
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CLW IO 2004