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Land Use Conversion in Washtenaw County, Michigan


Using Washtenaw County, Michigan as a focus, this project was designed to help local decision-makers in three ways: (1) Summarize national, state, and local land use trends; (2) provide a tool for identifying the impacts of proposed land conversion; and (3) apply the tool to two case studies.Like other communities across the nation, Washtenaw County is experiencing significant pressure to convert land, with population expected to increase from 283,000 in 1990 to 373,000 by 2020.  The Land Conversion Matrix was developed to help local decision-makers more fully consider the impacts of their land conversion decisions and how these would differ amongstakeholder groups.  The matrix guides a participatory community process through analysis of the benefits and costs associated with an alternative land use, dividing them into broad categories of environmental, economic, and societal impacts and organizing them by stakeholder.  It is important for the community to assess costs and benefits in terms of its values and priorities.  Because the tradeoffs between benefits and costs are often different for each stakeholder, these groups must be involved in the process so their interests are represented.  Two case studies evaluated land conversion decisions using the matrix.  One examined conversion of farmland to residential use.  Although it was clear that conversion would financially benefit farmers, the matrix helped uncover costs to the community that might not otherwise be identified.  A second considered the differing impacts of converting a vacant site to research or commercial use, and found that each alternative use presented many impacts not typically considered but which would accrue to traditional non-participants in the development process.   Recommendations from three reviewers suggested that the matrix could also be useful for larger-scale decisions (e.g., master planning), that it might require greater resources than planning departments have available, and that it would be difficult to quantify many of the impacts.  However, they felt that it could be a very useful tool to help decision-makers see different potential impacts and whom they would most affect. 

Washtenaw County Metropolitan Planning Commission
Research Areas
Urban Systems and Built Environment