While it probably doesn't qualify as a trend yet, some municipalities are more receptive to rezoning land that had been earmarked for new-home construction to be used instead for commercial and industrial development.

A quick search of recent news stories around the country finds landowners in several markets who have sought rezoning that either reduces or entirely does away with the residential component of their proposal in favor of a commercial option. On a larger scale, Centex Homes recently got approval to convert 104 acres of land in Fort Pierce, Fla., on which it had intended to build 531 homes in a community called Hawk's Reserve, for light-commercial use.

David Webster, a Centex spokesman, says the Fort Pierce situation is specific to that market and should be viewed as such concerning Centex's larger plans. But the Dallas-based builder has put the word out to its divisions nationwide to think harder about how best land can be deployed during the current housing downturn, says Kevin Borkenhagen, vice president of land development and entitlement for Centex's Southeast Florida division.

Borkenhagen tells BUILDER Online that his markets are currently "inundated" with unsold homes. In fact, Hawk's Reserve is only a half-mile from another Centex community in Fort Pierce. After Centex stopped work at Hawk's Reserve, in response to soft sales in the market, St. Lucie County's Economic Development Council (EDC) approached the builder about rezoning its property for nonresidential use. Borkenhagen says the county was "very much in favor" of the conversion because it wants to attract more businesses and jobs to an area that Larry Pelton, the EDC's council, told the Palm Beach Post was "probably the premier industrial site in our county."

In fact, the council expedited the approval process so that Centex got this land rezoned in only 90 days, "which is unheard of down here," says Borkenhagen. And even though the first buyer for that land fell out, he says there are several other interested parties. (Borkenhagen adds that the county has been helping Centex market the property to commercial developers.)

Borkenhagen is hoping a 110-acre parcel that Centex owns in Palm Beach, Fla., receives "crawl designation" as part of a corridor study of nearby Route 7, which will determine if that road is over capacity. Centex originally planned to build 264 homes on this land. But it's already selling out of a community called Castellina in the adjacent town of Wellington, Fla. And a crawl designation could make Centex's land in Palm Beach more valuable to commercial developers, he explains, because it would allow them to apply to the county for higher densities. On the other hand, densities for residential developers along that corridor are locked in, he says. Even with the designation, though, Centex could ultimately decide to hold onto this land to build new homes eventually, "when the market turns around, God willing," says Borkenhagen.

Learn more about markets featured in this article: Orlando, FL, Port St. Lucie, FL.