Publication Date



The Center for Economic Development at the University of Massachusetts, in Amherst, is part of the Landscape Architecture and Regional Planning Department, and is funded by the Economic Development Administration of the U.S. Department of Commerce, and the University of Massachusetts.


This is a study of growth potential in seven towns located along an east-west axis in the mid Connecticut River Valley in western Massachusetts. It employs a planning method commonly described as a build-out analysis in which lands are identified that are both physically suitable and available for future development. Zoning regulations, population growth projections, land conservation trends, and other constraints are then used to project different growth scenarios that result in estimations of the number of new residences that can be accommodated over time and the increases in population that would be likely based on those. The results of analyses such as this are often used in growth management efforts, municipal fiscal impact studies, or long-term transportation demand analysis.

The methods employed in this study are somewhat different than customary. While it is not unusual to use geographic information systems (GIS) to conduct build-out analyses, this particular study used GIS to examine spatial data at a large scale and at a level of detail that is not ordinary. The intent of this detailed examination is to make projections that are likely to be more accurate. The key data necessary for this level of analysis are parcel boundaries and useage codes that allow for a better appreciation of current land uses as well as better projections about the number of new households that the land can support under various zoning regulations.

When lands not physically suitable or available due to current use or ownerships are subtracted from the total area it is estimated that 31,562 acres remain available for future development, subject to zoning regulations that differ substantially among the towns in the study.

Four future growth scenarios were used to estimate the potential number of single family residences that could be built based on minimum lot sizes, estimated average lot sizes, and projected land conservation efforts. A so called "worst case scenario", represented by maximum development at minimum lot sizes, suggests that the number of households could increase by more than 28,000 and the population in the study area could increase from the current estimate of 102,000 to nearly 179,000 before the available supply of land was exhausted. Fortunately, this scenario is unlikely.

The study projects a most likely growth scenario based on the assertion that somewhat more than half the agricultural land will be preserved in perpetuity and that lot sizes will be considerably larger than the allowed minimums under current zoning regulations. Under this scenario it is projected that approximately 16,000 new households and an estimated population of 43,200 could be added to the area. If in fact future growth rates are in the order of 0.5% per year or slightly above, zoning regulations remain similar to the present, and there are sufficient jobs to support the increased population, then the study area will exhaust the supply of developable land sometime in the middle of the next century - within the expected life span of children now in elementary school.


Section 2: Pages 1-65