Village Plan Alternative (VPA)

Issues Addressed:
Housing Costs Housing Options Infrastructure Multigenerational Sustainable Housing

What is it?

The Village Plan Alternative (VPA) is a zoning tool designed to encourage the development of new villages in rural areas. The tool promotes compact development and a mix of land uses using traditional neighborhood design techniques, paired with open space conservation. The tool is similar to cluster zoning (also called “conservation development”), but it is focused on traditional mixed-use villages. The tool is also not an infill development ordinance, as it is focused on developing new villages in land that might otherwise go to conventional greenfield development. VPAs must conserve at least 80% of the total land in the VPA area.

Communities can allow the use of VPAs by incorporating a VPA ordinance into zoning. The VPA ordinance should specify applicable locations for establishing a VPA, allowed uses, dimensional rules, design standards for buildings and the public realm, and processes for permitting a VPA. All rules and standards should be specified for both the developable and conserved areas.

How can it help?

VPAs can…

  • Provide more diverse housing options with better access to everyday needs and community gathering spaces.
  • Reduce infrastructure costs for new development, reducing housing costs overall.
  • Create communities more accessible to seniors, young people, and new families.
  • Create economic development opportunities by providing more supply of commercial space and concentrating residents’ demand for goods and services.
  • Protect open spaces from sprawl style development.
  • Protect agricultural economies and traditions.
  • Create more local tax revenue, since housing near amenities tends to be valued more and successful mixed-use development can add more net revenue than housing alone.

Getting Started

  1. Recognize and promote VPA’s impact on common master plan goals, such as more diverse housing options, increased affordability, open space and agricultural preservation, efficient use of infrastructure, etc. 
  2. If undertaking a master plan, include adopting VPA as a recommendation.
  3. Conduct a public engagement process to gather public input on how to use the tool, including where new villages could be located, and which open spaces should be protected. Ensure the public understands how the tool works before moving forward with any legislation.
  4. Assess whether identified village areas can support greater housing development (i.e., access to utilities, traffic constraints, etc.).
  5. Draft zoning amendments that would adopt VPA into your existing zoning ordinance, specifying where VPAs are an available tool for development, where villages can be located, allowed uses, densities, parking requirements, etc. These amendments should account for any other zoning rules that may impact VPA implementation, as well as any non-zoning elements (e.g., Site Plan and Subdivision regulations) that must be adapted.
  6. Work with your Planning Board, Zoning Board, or any other relevant body to bring draft VPA legislation to the public and the Legislative Body.
  7. Once adopted, promote the VPA option to existing landowners and developers active in your town.


  • VPA adoption and VPA development have been limited. While there is a model VPA ordinance, your community will need to commit resources to studying how best to implement VPA locally and how to educate the public on the tool. 
  • Long-term phased VPA development can aid more organic community development. That said, the developer and any businesses located in the VPA may need a critical mass of residents to flourish.
  • Where possible, the village area and preserved open spaces should feel connected and should support one another (e.g., residents directly purchasing produce from preserved farmland or by providing trails in preserved woodlands).
  • The relative density of VPA’s village areas means there may be more physical constraints on VPAs than similar tools like cluster housing. Tools like Tax Increment Financing (TIF) could be used to fund utility access or other infrastructure needs.
  • Mixed-use development requires a different skill-set than residential-only development. Your community should seek out mixed-use developers working in the region and connect them with local agricultural or open space landowners.
  • Businesses in totally new communities face significant economic risks, and commercial spaces risk sitting vacant. Tailor commercial space design to meet local business needs, and connect developers to local businesses and entrepreneurs. Partnerships between developers and commercial tenants can improve a project’s viability.