Designing with Nature in Mind. What are Low Impact Development and Conservation Development?

Low Impact Development or LID refers to a land planning and design approach to manage stormwater runoff. This initiative emphasizes conservation by utilizing the on-site natural features to protect water quality.  At Matunuck Design Group, we will draw upon the expertise of our team to create a plan that understands the benefits of the on-site features while protecting the quality of our local water supply.

LID comes as a result of lessons learned from suburbanization. Suburbanization is the largest cause of “Urban Sprawl”, the uncontrolled growth of urban areas. These urban areas were constructed without consideration of environmental and cultural impacts.  This sprawl rapidly consumed the open space and quickly created devastating and irreversible effects on our local and natural resources.  Imagine a plot of undeveloped land.  When it rains, stormwater naturally permeates through the ground.  When the land is developed sparse with trees and abundant with concrete, the stormwater is less able to permeate through the ground. Consequently, there is an abundance of stormwater that carries pollutants into our streams, estuaries and ecosystems.  This creates a major problem as the volume of water and pollution simultaneously increases.  In addition, the frequency and intensity of storms and natural disasters is increasing at an alarming rate.  It is paramount that any design solutions bear this in mind. In Rhode Island we are all too familiar with intermittent bans on shellfish harvesting in upper Narragansett Bay causing economic and cultural consequences.


Conservation Development is a creative site design technique that allows a community to work collaboratively with developers to accommodate growth while avoiding impacts to natural resources and community character. Its compact form also preserves at least 50% of a given development site as open space, dependent upon the community’s open space desires. The way Conservation Development has been implemented by many Rhode Island communities follows the basic tenets of “designing with nature” as they were first introduced in the writings of Ian McHarg and became more explicit with works from Randall Arendt et al. (McHarg, 1995; Arendt et al., 1994). What separates Conservation Development from conventional and cluster subdivisions is the more thoughtful design process that uses existing opportunities and constraints to shape the final design. On a given parcel of land, objective site analysis is used to determine where development is most suitable, and conversely where development must be avoided to preserve sensitive natural resources. Resources identified and considered for preservation should include, but are not limited to, wetlands, hydric or prime agricultural soils, surface waters, steep slopes, areas subject to storm flow, vernal pools and associated naturally vegetated buffers. Conservation Development provides the flexibility necessary to locate the development envelope where it is most appropriate and makes it easier to maintain pre-development hydrology in the remainder of the site. (RI DEM, 2003)

Conservation Development answers the question, so now what?  Conservation Development asks us to create a conscientious design that will allow for growth yet avoid negative impacts on natural resources and the lifestyle of the community.  At Matunuck Design Group we will work collaboratively with developers to create a design with the environment and community appeal in mind.  We capitalize on opportunities within the site to create a design that preserves valuable natural resources.  

The Rhode Island Conservation Development (RI DEM, 2003) identifies a Ten Step Process which Matunuck Design Group is well versed in when formulating a design.

  • Analyze the site
  • Evaluate Site Context
  • Designate Potential Conservation Areas
  • Determine the Maximum Number of Units
  • Locate Development Areas and Explore Alternatives
  • Locate House Sites
  • Layout Streets, Trails and Other Infrastructures
  • Design and Program Open Space
  • Draw in Lot Lines
  • Establish Ownership and Maintenance of Open Space

At Matunuck Design Group we embrace a design sensibility which emphasizes pedestrian friendly, people centric spaces. We strive to create designs that yield beautiful and functional landscapes sensitive to environmental, social, and economic factors.

We maintain a fervent focus on minimizing developmental impacts on the environment.  Some installations include:

  • Rain Gardens
  • Green Roofs
  • Bio-Swales
  • Passive Solar
  • Sustainable Materials

Given the unique characteristics of each site, Matunuck Design Group will identify and utilize the most beneficial design solutions to create a comprehensive design that reduces negative impacts to the environment without losing sight of the value of beauty and aesthetic appeal. As we shape and manage the various elements, Matunuck Design Group creates a synergistic design. The whole that is greater than the simple sum of its parts.