IN ARCHITECTURE, COVING IS a molding or arched section of wall surface. But in land planning, coving is a revolutionary technique that rebalances space to create larger lots without losing density.

In some cases, builders and developers who have used the innovative planning tool, dubbed by some as “New Suburbanism,” have actually picked up a few pads. And all at the same or less cost than had the property been laid out in a more traditional grid-like fashion.

In a recent project on Grand Bahama Island—a project that started out as a traditional neighborhood design—coving saved the Port Authority nearly $950,000 by reducing street lengths by 12,100 linear feet. Had the 800-lot property been on sanitary sewer instead of septic, the savings would have been significantly greater.

Buyers love coved lots because they are more usable, and as a result, builders have been able to charge more for them.

SPACE SAVERS: Coving let D.R. Horton provide larger lots with more green and less street. “This is a huge marketing advantage; everybody loved it,” says Frank Sitterle, president of Sitterle Homes, which “coved” the streetscape at its Roseheart active adult community in San Antonio. “We were able to maximize our returns because we could get a premium for every lot.”

Tough To Tame Coving isn't terribly difficult, once you get the hang of it. And therein lies the rub, says its inventor and one of the art's few “practioneers,” planner Rick Harrison of Rick Harrison Site Design (RHSD), a small, five-person firm in Golden Valley, Minn. It takes months to become proficient in the technique, and few are willing to make the effort.

“The first time people try it, they end up losing density and they give up; they say it doesn't work,” says Harrison.

“It's not easily mastered. It takes hundreds and hundreds of sites to understand it. It's like skating. It takes a lot of practice and you fall on your face a lot, but you eventually learn how. When we hire someone in our office, we block out one to two years for them to have the ability to cove on their own.”

SPACE MACHINE: Through coving techniques, invented by designer Rick Harrison, curved streets create open space—without losing density. It took Harrison a good six months himself to become proficient at coving, a technique he stumbled upon while experimenting with another planning concept he originated called “Bay Homes” while he was hard at work as a 16-year-old high schooler working nights and weekends.

At the time, the now 52-year-old planner was “too young for anybody to take me seriously.” But he didn't give up. After honing his craft with Don Geake and Associates in Southfield, Mich., he set out on his own to promote Bay Homes. Then, one day eight years ago, while trying to create a better long streetscape, he couldn't believe his eyes. The computer was telling him he had figured out how to cut development costs by 20 percent.