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Smaller Lots and Density Bonuses

Plainfield, Will County

Policy and Governance

An MPC policy and governance case study

Policy background

The Village of Plainfield has experienced tremendous residential growth in recent years, as the community’s population grew from 13,038 in 2000 to approximately 40,000 in 2010. Village elected officials and planning staff have adopted a series of plans and programs to guide growth, while protecting environmental and historic resources, promoting sensible growth techniques and encouraging a full range of housing options to meet the needs of all segments of the community. The heart of the village’s efforts is the density bonus program adopted in 2005 as part of the Village’s Residential Design Guidelines for Annexations and Planned Unit Developments.

Plainfield enacted a moratorium on residential annexations in 2004. This gave staff time to update codes and ordinances, as well as create new regulations to foster sensible growth and preserve historic identity and community character. This included updating Plainfield’s Comprehensive Plan, adopting the new Residential Design Guidelines in 2005, and completing an update of the Zoning Code in 2006. In 2013, Plainfield updated its Comprehensive Plan and specifically identified a growth management policy of promoting future development to specific infill areas adjacent to village utilities. The updated Comprehensive Plan outlines the probability that residential development in the future will be much more incremental and that the days of 2,000-unit planned developments will not likely return in the near future.

The Village’s updated Comprehensive Plan continues the density bonus program, which provides an increase in residential density above the base level established in the plan for developments that meet one or more of the 15 village objectives. These include the provision of affordable housing (10 percent bonus), historic preservation (5 percent), and enhanced land-planning and architectural elements (bonuses ranging from 5 to 15 percent). An environmental category provides for clustering of homes on smaller lots to achieve a greater percent of open space for environmental protection and restoration, while the traditional neighborhood development category allows for smaller lots with homes served by alleys.

The new Zoning Code also introduced two new zoning districts—the Conservation Design and Traditional Neighborhood Development (TND) districts, which allow smaller lots and cluster developments.

How it works

In Plainfield, permitted residential density for a given parcel is determined by the parcel’s land-use designation in the Comprehensive Plan. The plan has a series of residential land-use categories that correspond to various housing types – single-family detached homes, townhomes and condominiums, apartments and mixed-use developments. Each category has a range of appropriate densities. The low density classification is 1.4 to two homes per acre, the medium density classification is 2.1 to three units per acre, and the village residential classification is four to six units per acre. Prior to the 2005 plan update, developments could be proposed at any density within the range and reviewed on a case-by-case basis, without a formal rationale or specific criteria to justify the proposed density. The updated Comprehensive Plan requires all projects to start at the base density (the bottom of the range) and then implement one or more policy objectives in order to achieve a higher density within the permitted range. There is a maximum bonus of 50 percent, and the density is restricted to the upper limit of the range for the given land-use designation.

Village staff believes the density bonus program (as well as the new zoning districts) will facilitate access to housing for all residents. By providing a bonus for projects that incorporate affordable housing, the program provides economic relief in the form of an increased number of homes allowed. The program also allows for design flexibility, such as a decrease in the minimum lot size for conservation design and TND projects, which will help put housing costs within reach of more people. The design guidelines promote a range of housing types – including apartments, townhomes, duplexes and detached single-family homes of various sizes – that extend across the spectrum of home prices. The bonus program should also reduce the cost to develop individual homes (and, staff hopes, reduce the home’s purchase price) by spreading fixed development costs such as land acquisition, design and permitting, and construction of infrastructure over a greater number of homes.

The new TND zoning district reduces lot size to a minimum 6,000 square feet, allows for a mix of housing types within the district, narrows road widths and produces an overall reduction of pavement. The Conservation Design zoning district encourages clustered homes that provide shared open space and protect existing environmental resources. Both districts incorporate development standards to accompany the lot size flexibility as well as to exemplify the Village’s commitment to sensible growth and the widespread availability and attainability of housing.

Plainfield has approved four residential developments that met the Residential Design Guidelines and received a density bonus. The most significant example is Grande Park South, which at 1,113 acres is the largest development ever proposed in Plainfield. Original plans call for lot sizes ranging from 6,400 square feet to 40,000 square feet, as well as a variety of housing types (single-family detached, duplex, townhome and condominium). Grande Park South’s plans also include state of the art conservation design techniques under the guidance of Randall Arendt, a nationally known author and land planner who is an expert in conservation design land planning practices. The development proposal sets aside approximately 481 acres, or 43 percent of the total project area, as open space. Bioswales, filter strips and rain gardens are all identified in the proposal as part of the development’s stormwater management process (instead of the traditional curb and gutter). Storm sewers would be built to cleanse stormwater runoff, encourage groundwater infiltration and slow the rate of runoff into streams. Cluster development and TND also would be incorporated.

One of the biggest challenges since the housing market downturn in 2008 has been reviving some of these innovative projects. Grande Park South, while still entitled, is now owned by another development partnership, whose commitment to the previously approved land plan is uncertain. Affordability and the return to conventional rules pertaining to residential financing have radically changed the market in Plainfield over the past five years. The few national builders who are now active in Plainfield are generally looking at smaller lot sizes ranging from 6,000 to 9,000 square feet.

In response to the new market, Plainfield has now adopted some minimum design standards to ensure that the national builders construct developments that meet the Village’s current design standards while also providing opportunities for the first-time home purchasers.

Staff believes that recognition of the need for a variety of lot sizes from the standard 11,000 or 12,000 square foot lots and the promotion of new development to areas adjacent to existing Village infrastructure will continue the Village’s commitment to managing its future growth in an intelligent and sustainable manner. Smaller lots (6,000 to 8,000 square feet) create opportunities for more compact development with less required infrastructure that the Village needs to maintain in the future. This has been emphasized since the downturn of 2008, which has dramatically impacted the Village’s perspective on the sustainability of growth over the long term.

With its Residential Design Guidelines and updated Comprehensive Plan, the Village is committed to creating a resilient community that will incorporate a diverse set of housing opportunities for its current and future population. To maintain its character, density bonuses are given for conservation development and developments that maintain the Village’s high standards in residential design.


Department of Planning, Village of Plainfield

  • Goal

    To establish development regulations that encourage affordable and attainable housing, sensible growth, conservation design, historic preservation, and land planning and architecture that preserve unique community identity and character.

  • Target

    All developers.

  • Financing

    This program has supported four developments that meet community goals at little cost to the community.

  • Success

    Four developments have implemented the Village’s design guidelines, creating a total of 3,500 homes that meet Plainfield’s sensible growth principles. A number of these projects have started, while others have stalled and are uncertain based on the housing market.