By Charles Wardell. A new development about to get under way just south of Santa Fe, N.M., Rancho Viejo--a 21,000-acre ranch that was used as grazing land for more than a century--represents a major change in local zoning, thanks in part to a new type of software.

Tempe, Ariz.-based SunCor Development, which owned about 10,000 acres of the land, wanted to build clustered villages with mixed-use housing and commercial buildings, leaving plenty of open space. But the region's zoning codes specified 2 1/2-acre, single-lot homes. To help garner support for a zoning change, the developer hired Design Workshop, a Santa Fe landscape architecture and planning firm, to show how the site would look if developed under the old and the proposed rules.

The Santa Fe office of the Trust for Public Land (TPL) was already beta testing a new type of visualization package called CommunityViz. TPL invited Design Workshop and SunCor to participate. The software showed how each scenario would impact the region's open space, wildlife, and groundwater, as well as its schools, businesses, and traffic patterns. It was used to build 3D fly-throughs of each scenario and calculate the effect of each on the above resources--showing, for instance, large potential savings in water and energy use.

"It was the turning point to start changing attitudes about what [the company] was trying to create," says Design Workshop's Greg Witherspoon. "After showing the whole process, it was irrefutable evidence that what we were doing would reduce impact on land."

CommunityViz visualization software helped Santa Fe developers garner support for zoning changes to allow clustered development. "The software let us check some of the assumptions people were making" about the two zoning models, adds TPL's Ted Harrison. He says that a lot of people are afraid of dense, tightly clustered developments and don't understand their advantages. "The software can move people through a project and allow them to see what the scale would be and what the visual impacts would be. It's a wonderful storytelling tool."