Abstract Land cover changes affect local surface energy balances by changing the amount of solar energy reflected, the magnitude and duration over which absorbed energy is released as heat, and the amount of energy that is diverted to non-heating fluxes through evaporation. However, such local influences often are only crudely included in climate modeling exercises, if at all. A better understanding of local land conversion dynamics can serve to inform inputs for climate models and increase the role for land use planning in climate management policy. Here we present a new approach for projecting and incorporating metropolitan land cover change into mesoscale climate and other environmental assessment models. Our results demonstrate the relative contributions of different land development patterns to land cover change and conversion and suggest that regional growth management strategies serving to increase settlement densities over time can have a significant influence on the rate of deforestation per unit of population growth. Employing the approach presented herein, the impacts of land conversion on climate change and on parallel environmental systems and services, such as ground water recharge, habitat provision, and food production, may all be investigated more closely and managed through land use planning.