HIP Tool: Cluster Development

Cluster subdivisions or developments locate housing around green space or other amenities, allowing houses to be closer on one portion of a site to preserve natural features elsewhere. This can increase land use efficiency, lower infrastructure development and maintenance costs, lower site grading and drainage costs, and help preserve open space and natural features. Clustering is often used when a portion of a building site is constrained by sensitive or critical areas or as a rural development technique.


Cluster development can relieve development pressure on environmentally sensitive areas, greenbelts and rural and resource lands by focusing development in one location while preserving open space. Cluster development can provide benefits in addition to land conservation. The smaller, denser home sites can introduce different housing types into areas dominated by large-lot single family development. In areas with high land values, a smaller lot or home with open space owned in common can reduce housing costs. Additionally, cluster development can reduce developer costs. Clustered homes are often grouped around a common space instead of placed in rows along roadways, saving on infrastructure costs. Developer savings can be passed on to residents, increasing the affordability of these units.

Cluster development requires relaxing development standards for setbacks, lot sizes and densities to permit such compact development. In a cluster development, the total number of units is established independently of minimum lot standards. The portion of the site held out of development is counted towards the gross density of the parcel. Cluster ordinances incorporate design standards, along with minimum open space and density standards. Cluster design standards can be either voluntary or mandatory. Voluntary provisions are often paired with incentives like density bonuses, which are awarded based on established performance standards. Cluster development ordinances can specify how preserved open space is used and managed.

Review and permitting of cluster developments is usually similar to that of a regular subdivision. Communities permit cluster development by adopting an ordinance specifying standards for cluster subdivision review or permitting the development type in certain zones. This technique may require considerable outreach to developers and building staff for both promoting and understanding cluster development.

Tool Profile

Focus Areas

  • Expensive Housing Markets
  • Innovative Single Family Techniques

Project Types

  • Single Family
  • Ownership
  • Market Rate
  • Subsidized

Affordability Level

  • 80 to 120% AMI
  • Less than 80% AMI

Housing Goal

  • Diversity