Produced by

Alexander Persons

Farmington River Watershed Association

September 2003





Methods & Data Sources


Map Explanations & Results







The Farmington River Watershed Association would like to thank the following:


          The New Hartford Open Space Preservation Commission for its enthusiasm and commitment to this project and to open space conservation in the Town of New Hartford.


          Karl Nilsen and Lynne Charest of the New Hartford Land Use Office for their technical and logistical support.


            Gail Sartori, New Hartford Tax Assessor, for providing essential Grand List information.




In the Spring of 2003 the New Hartford Open Space Preservation Commission contracted the Farmington River Watershed Association (FRWA)[1] to conduct a buildable land study of the town.  The purpose of this study was to analyze all lands in town to determine which lands were still available for residential or commercial development.


New Hartford is located on the expanding edge of suburban metro-Hartford development.  Due to its proximity to a major metropolitan area and its attractive rural character, New Hartford has experienced much growth in the past 50 years, with its population growing by over 150%.  Currently New Hartford has the greatest number of permit applications for new residential developments for a town of its size in the greater Hartford area, with over 90 applications in process with the town.[2]


The Buildable Lands Study is a valuable tool for New Hartford’s land use commissions because it shows how the town could be developed in the future under current zoning regulations.  The study can also help the town prioritize lands which are most appropriate to develop, and lands which are most appropriate to conserve.  As New Hartford experiences more and more pressure for residential and commercial development, the Buildable Lands Study can aid town planners, commission members and elected officials in weighing the costs and benefits of future conservation and development.  In particular, the Buildable Lands Study can help guide the Open Space Preservation Commission in identifying and prioritizing important pieces of land in town for open space acquisition.



The New Hartford Buildable Lands Study was completed using ArcView 3.2/ArcGIS 8.2 Geographic Information Systems (GIS) software.[3]  Methods for the study were borrowed from several different sources, most notably from MASSGIS[4] and from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.[5]


A builable lands study is designed to determine which lands in town are available for (or vulnerable to) development.  The most direct way to determine this is to figure out which lands are not available for development because of natural features (wetlands, floodplains, steep slopes), open space protection status, or because they are already developed.  These lands are then subtracted from the total town area, leaving the buildable lands on the map.


Buildable lands are determined through a series of steps done in GIS as follows:

          Step 1) Subtract all permanently protected open space.  This is most easily done by consultation with a town’s planner, land use commissions, or local land trusts.  In the case of New Hartford, the Open Space Preservation Commission has a comprehensive map of permantently protected open spaces in town. 

          Step 2) Subtract natural features that are constraints to development based on municipal zoning regulations.  In New Hartford this means wetlands, FEMA designated floodplains, and slopes over 25%.

Step 3) Subtract already developed residential and commercial lands.  Already developed lands are determined through analyzing the Grand List of the town.  First all the vacant residential and commercial parcels are selected as buildable and removed from this analysis.  Next non-vacant residential parcels are analyzed to determine whether they are “built-out” to the maximum extent allowed by their zone, or still have potential to be further subdivided and developed.  If an already developed parcel is greater than 2 ½ times its minimum lot size allowed in that zone, then it is considered to have buildable land associated with it, and can be classified as “underdeveloped.”  For example, a 6 acre parcel with a single family home in a 2 acre residential zone would be considered underdeveloped, and therefore buildable under current zoning regulations.  A 4 acre parcel with a single family home in the same zone would not be considered buildable, because the total lot size does not exceed 2 ½ times the minimum lot size requirement for that zone.

          Step 4) Subtract 10% from “gross buildable” lands for roads, sidewalks, and inefficiencies in new developments.[6]  This step takes into account that new developments must use a certain amount of the area to be developed for roads and road right-of-ways, sidewalks, conforming odd lot shapes, and inefficiencies.  This land is not considered to be buildable.


After subtracting the land areas as outlined in steps 1-4, the remaining lands are the town’s buildable lands.


The data sources for the buildable lands study were varied, though most of the information is available to the public, free of any charge, from federal, state and local sources.  The spatial data sources for use in GIS were ArcView shapefiles and AutoCAD drawings.  The sets of data that are necessary to complete a buildable lands study are: town parcels (lot lines) tagged with unique id’s; wetland boundaries; floodplain boundaries; contours, elevations and slopes; surface water features; zoning; permanently protected open space; and roads.  In addition, the town’s Assessor’s Grand List is required, preferably in digital form, for determining whether land is vacant, underdeveloped, or already developed.




Development Constraints

The Development Constraints map shows areas of wetlands, surface water features, floodplains, steep slopes greater than 25%, and protected open space. 


Buildable Land by Zone

The Buildable Land by Zone map shows which lands are available for (or vulnerable to) development based on an analysis of development constraints and already built-upon land.  It also breaks down the actual acreages of buildable land by zone and the overall percentage of buildable land in town.




Acres Buildable Land by Zone










R1 1/2










Approximately 44% of New Hartford’s total area is buildable.  The majority of this land, roughly 98%, is residential.  The continued development of these areas is a potential problem for the tax base of the town because of the costs of providing services to residential areas versus the tax benefits gained from residential development.[7]  The “build-out” of these residential areas would also mean a very significant increase in town population and automobile traffic.  These facts strongly support open space acquisition and preservation as a strategy to ease financial burdens of the town.  




Recommended Methodology and Work Program for a Buildable Lands Analysis for Snohomish County and its Cities.  ECONorthwest.  July 2000.


Scope of Services for Buildout Analysis.  MassGIS.


Green Communities: How To Do A Buildout Analysis.  U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.


Buildout Analysis.  Town of Franklin, Mass.


A Buildout Analysis for the Town of Coventry, R.I.  Eric Brazer.  Brown University Center for Environmental Studies.  May 2002.


Buildable Land Analysis: Southeast Travers County.  Community and Regional Planning Program.  University of Texas, Austin.  2003.


Town of Salem, CT Buildout Analysis.  2003.


[1] The Farmington River Watershed Association is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization committed to protecting and promoting the Farmington River and its watershed through research, education and advocacy since 1953.

[2] New Hartford Open Space Preservation Commission, September, 2003.

[3] ArcGIS Software, Environmental Systems Research Incorporated.

[4] Scope of Services for Buildout Analysis.  MassGIS.

[5] Green Communities: How To Do A Buildout Analysis.  U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

[6] Town of Salem, CT Buildout Analysis.  2003.

[7] “Residential development costs the town $1.58 in services for every tax dollar generated versus $0.05 per dollar for open space.”  New Hartford Open Space Preservation Commission.