Review Zoning Ordinances

Local ordinances and regulations should be reviewed to determine their adequacy for natural resource protection. Guidance for conducting ordinance review and amending zoning ordinances is available from your regional planning commission. Municipal zoning and subdivision regulations often don't adequately protect natural resources and there can often be a disconnect between a community's master plan and its land use controls. For example, a master plan may have an overall goal to protect natural resources and open space, but the zoning regulations may not provide for this.

Using the NRI data and GIS maps, the effects of proposed land use or zoning changes can be evaluated to determine potential effects on natural resources. The tax map overlay could also be consulted to determine how and in what way land owners might be affected. “What if ” scenarios could be run that would summarize the total area impacted, and display the locations of impact. For example, a “what if ” scenario of new buffer width requirements around wetlands would allow the community to see which additional lands would be impacted by a range of increasing widths.

Municipalities commonly recognize the importance of critical resource areas by adding protective overlay zoning districts to their town-wide zoning ordinances. This type of zoning (Environmental Characteristics Zoning) has traditionally been used to protect wetlands, floodplains, watersheds, aquifers, steep slopes, and shorelines. A natural resources inventory can provide much of the information needed to determine the location of the district, and the effects of proposed zoning changes. A community NRI can be referenced in municipal zoning and subdivision regulations, and the use of the NRI for site plan or subdivision review can be required.