Elisabeth Haub Law School of Law
Land Use Law Center
Supervisor: John R. Nolon, Distinguished Professor
Blog No. 13 of the Land Use, Human Health, and Equity Project
Editor: Brooke Mercaldi
Contributing Researcher: Jessica Roberts
Hazard Mitigation Planning: A Case Study
Over the past twenty years, hazard mitigation plans have proliferated at the local level. There are currently more than 24,000 local governments that have “FEMA-approved or approvable-pending-adoption” local hazard mitigation plans. Each plan proposes a wealth of strategies for mitigating natural hazards of every stripe. This blog will showcase how these plans can utilize land-use strategies to mitigate a wide range of natural hazards, including those that jeopardize public health. To do so, this blog will illustrate how Louisville Metro, Kentucky, has developed and implemented its hazard mitigation plan.
Louisville Metro, Kentucky
Louisville Metro is a merged city-county government lying along the Ohio River in northern Kentucky. The state’s humid, subtropical climate makes it particularly vulnerable to flooding and extreme heat hazards, both of which pose profound risks to the public’s health. Extreme heat is “the number one weather-related killer in the U.S.,” causing “more fatalities per year than floods, lightning, tornadoes, and hurricanes combined.” Higher temperatures also “contribute to the build-up of harmful air pollutants” linked to respiratory problems. Likewise, flooding jeopardizes public health, as floodwaters can transmit infectious diseases, contaminate food and drinking water, and carry hazardous materials and waste.
In its hazard mitigation plan, Louisville Metro proposes several innovative approaches for mitigating these hazards. For extreme heat, the plan proposes “incentivizing or requiring minimum albedo levels”—that is, levels of solar reflectance for the resurfacing of roofs, streets, and parking lots. The plan also calls for using vegetation management strategies, such as adopting “a comprehensive tree protection ordinance,” since tree canopies are so effective at reducing ambient air temperatures and managing stormwater runoff.
Critically, Louisville Metro developed this plan in conjunction with its comprehensive plan (“Plan 2040”), which allowed Louisville Metro to incorporate the hazard mitigation plan’s objectives into it. Plan 2040 translated these objectives into specific policies, such as to “encourage design elements that address the urban heat island effect.” Such design elements include “the planting and preservation of trees, cool roofs and green infrastructure.” In other policies, Plan 2040 emphasizes the importance of mitigating flood-related hazards. These policies help establish a vision for Louisville Metro’s future, helping to guide future land use decisions in a way that mitigates flooding and extreme heat hazards.
To implement these policies, Louisville Metro used its Land Development Code. In this Code, Louisville Metro requires the planting of street trees in residential zones and for certain developers to meet tree canopy standards. It further incentivizes the use of high albedo and vegetated roof surfaces through a point system that determines residential density bonuses. In order to locate development away from flood-prone areas, the Code requires buffer areas along protected waterways. These requirements, among others, effectively translate Louisville Metro’s hazard mitigation plan into law.
While Louisville Metro is but one jurisdiction among many engaged in hazard mitigation planning, the process that Louisville Metro undertook exemplifies the expansive role that hazard mitigation plans can play. By incorporating the hazard mitigation plan into the comprehensive plan’s policies and implementing these policies in land use regulations, communities can become more disaster-ready and resilient. This, in turn, can help promote and protect the public’s health.
- Reframing Sustainability: Introducing the Land Use, Human Health, and Equity Project
- Planning for Public Health: A New Beginning for Land Use Law
- The Role of Density in Combatting Climate Change and COVID-19
- Novel Coronavirus Claims Implicate Age-Old Property Rights Questions
- State & Local COVID-related Emergency Powers: Individual Rights
- COVID-Related Land Use Regulations and Judicial Deference
- Mediation of Eviction Disputes May Hold the Key to the Survival of Small Businesses
- Using Zoning to Help Eliminate Food Deserts: A Few Steps Forward
- Urban Heat Islands and Equity
- Urban Heat Island and Equity: What Can Local Governments Do?
- The Recovery Lease: Preventing Evictions of Commercial Tenants During the Pandemic
- The Role of Hazard Mitigation Planning in Promoting Public Health and Resilience