statewide municipal fiscal IMPACT model

State of new hampshire

The New Hampshire Office of Energy and Planning (NHOEP) was interested in developing a statewide model that would allow communities to evaluate the potential costs of sprawl-related development.  Considerable research and analysis has been conducted around the country on the impacts of sprawl, a term which is typically defined as being a low denisty, “leapfrog” form of land development, wherein development occurs at locations that are non-contiguous to existing core community areas, job centers, or municipal facilities.  As a result, sprawl is generally considered to result in an “inefficient” use of land resources and increased costs of providing municipal services.  From a more global perspective it can also impact broader societal factors such as highway congestion, air pollution, natural resources, public health, and community cohesion. The NHOEP’s goal was to provide a simple-to-use tool that would allow local and regional planners to examine the costs associated with sprawling, or inefficient development patterns, with the goal of encouraging “smarter” land use policy and regulatory changes that would result in more cost effective, compact forms of  development.

RKG Associates, with assistance from Placeways, LLC and Urban Interactive Studio, LLC, proposed the creation of an interactive, Internet-based model, that would allow the user to test alternative land development scenarios within any of the state’s 239 municipalities.  Creating such a model involved two major and interrelated challenges.  The first was compilation of a statewide database that contained an array of demographic, infrastructure, and financial attributes that had to be drawn from a variety of sources and normalized for use in the model.  The second was determining which variables could be used to measure “sprawl-related” impacts, as opposed to, just the land use and fiscal impacts associated with any new development in a community.

The consulting team developed a model with a map-based interface that allows users to easily select a location within the community (using 40-acre grid squares) to test the impacts of alternative land development scenarios.  The model allows users to select a mix of residential, retail, office, or industrial uses, and to define the density of these uses.  When the model is run its outputs include the acres of land used, miles of infrastructure constructed, and increases in population and school children.  From a fiscal perspective it provides estimates of cost increases related to infrastructure maintenance, emergency services, and schools, as well as comparative increases in local property taxes.  Ultimately, the model will allow users to run multiple scenarios at different densities, and/or, locations within the community, and compare the results.  This will help planners, officials and residents, evaluate the impacts of a “business as usual approach” to land development and help to highlight the benefits of more compact, better planned, and integrated forms of development.  The model is available at


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