Elisabeth Haub Law School of Law
Pace University
Land Use Law Center
Supervisor: John R. Nolon, Distinguished Professor
Blog No. 38 of the Land Use, Human Health, and Equity Project
Editor: Brooke Mercaldi
Contributing Author: Meg Byerly Williams [*]


Low Carbon and Resilient Land Use: Part 3


Local governments are well-equipped to respond to climate change. Using legal authority derived from state planning and zoning enabling acts, municipalities may adopt local land use laws that help lessen the effects of climate change by reducing carbon emissions associated with the built environment. These strategies include local regulations that facilitate energy efficient buildings, district energy systems, renewable energy development, preservation of carbon-sequestering green spaces, and transit-oriented development that promotes walking and transit in lieu of personal vehicle use. Choosing to Succeed: Land Use Law & Climate Control describes these low carbon land use strategies in detail, presenting many helpful local examples. But the story does not end here. As natural disasters continue to impact vulnerable areas more frequently due to climate change, local governments must find ways to adapt to this new normal. In addition to low carbon approaches, Choosing to Succeed presents how local governments can mitigate against and adapt to future natural hazards and protect water supplies.

To help minimize impacts from natural disasters, municipalities can engage in hazard mitigation planning, which, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), “identify the natural hazards that impact communities, identify actions to reduce losses from those hazards, and establish a coordinated process to implement the plan.” Hazard mitigation plans ensure that people and their property are protected when natural disasters occur and help break “the cycle of disaster damage and reconstruction.” For example, Santa Cruz, California adopted a hazard mitigation plan that includes a sea level rise vulnerability assessment with climate hazard map projections for 2030, 2060 and 2100. The plan also incorporates a social vulnerability assessment that identifies the City’s most vulnerable census blocks and prioritizes adaptation strategies. Similarly, Manitou Springs, Colorado, adopted “Plan Manitou,” which involved the concurrent development of a comprehensive community master plan and hazard mitigation plan to ensure natural hazard considerations were incorporated within the City’s long-range planning process. Spurred by several major flood events, Plan Manitou includes a natural hazards risk assessment, a long-term action plan, and hazard mitigation strategy implementation.

The federal Disaster Mitigation Act (DMA) requires municipalities to “develop and submit for approval to the President a [hazard] miti­gation plan that outlines processes for identifying the natural hazards, risks, and vulnerabilities of the area under the jurisdiction of the government” before they can qualify for FEMA’s Hazard Mitigation Grant Program, which provides support to state, local, tribal and territorial governments to rebuild after a presidentially declared disaster. To maintain eligibility, FEMA further requires local governments to review and update these plans every five years from the date of plan approval. FEMA’s Local Mitigation Planning Handbook explains how municipalities should integrate hazard mitigation plan information and recommendations “throughout government operations” and include hazard mitigation goals and actions in other local plans, including comprehensive, stormwater management, sustainability, economic development and area plans. The DMA requires local governments to submit final hazard mitigation plans to their State Hazard Mitiga­tion Officer for review and coordination. The state then forwards the plan to FEMA for formal review and approval.

In addition to hazard mitigation planning, local governments can adopt plans and regulations to conserve water sources in places that experience more drought due to climate change. As with low carbon land use solutions, municipalities can use their authority to adopt land use plans and regulations that help conserve water. These water-efficient strategies include desig­nated water conservation areas, special limitations on water use, green building certification requirements and local water permitting laws. For example, the Town of New Paltz, New York adopted a comprehensive plan that designates priority areas for growth and other areas for conservation to encourage water-efficient land use patterns. New Paltz’s Future Land Use Plan maps out areas for future high-density development while preserving the town’s green spaces and natural resources. The Town of Wayland, New York adopted a Water Conservation and Permitting Program that protects the town’s primary source of water, an underground aquifer that is naturally limited in quantity, by requiring a permit for the installation of any new water supply systems or an expansion of any existing ones. Applications must include a map showing the water supply system, watershed maps showing the watershed or aquifer affected, profiles of the proposed facilities, contract plans, an engineer’s report, a water supply analysis, treatment methods and project justification.

To promote water-efficient buildings, the Town of Greenburgh, New York, adopted its Green Building Initiative and Energy Con­struction Standards that requires all covered projects to become certified under the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED for New Construction (LEED-NC) Rating System, which includes criteria for water use reduction and water-efficient landscaping and wastewater technologies. Covered site plan applicants must submit LEED-NC documentation completed by a LEED Accredited Professional, as well as other documents that demonstrate compliance with the requirements. Choosing to Succeed describes these and other climate change adaptation strategies that municipalities can implement to become more resilient in the face of more frequent natural disasters.

For additional resources, the Gaining Ground Information Database is a free resource featuring best practice models used by governments to control the use of land in the public interest. Please direct your search toward the Healthy Communities topic.

[*] Meg Byerly Williams is a ’10 graduate of the joint degree program of the Elisabeth Haub School of Law (JD) and the Yale School of the Environment (MEM). She is In-house Counsel at Skeo Solutions, Inc. where she serves as a regular consultant to the Land Use Law Center. She also serves as the Ex Officio Member of the American Planning Association’s Divisions Council Executive Committee and is Editor of the APA Planning and Law Division’s Case Law Digest.

Brooke Mercaldi is a second-year student at the Elisabeth Haub School of Law and Land Use Scholar in the Land Use Law Center.

The previous blogs in the series are listed here:

  1. Reframing Sustainability: Introducing the Land Use, Human Health, and Equity Project
  2. Planning for Public Health: A New Beginning for Land Use Law
  3. The Role of Density in Combatting Climate Change and COVID-19
  4. Novel Coronavirus Claims Implicate Age-Old Property Rights Questions
  5. State & Local COVID-related Emergency Powers: Individual Rights
  6. COVID-Related Land Use Regulations and Judicial Deference
  7. Mediation of Eviction Disputes May Hold the Key to the Survival of Small Businesses
  8. Using Zoning to Help Eliminate Food Deserts: A Few Steps Forward
  9. Urban Heat Islands and Equity
  10. Urban Heat Island and Equity: What Can Local Governments Do?
  11. The Recovery Lease: Preventing Evictions of Commercial Tenants During the Pandemic
  12. The Role of Hazard Mitigation Planning in Promoting Public Health and Resilience
  13. Hazard Mitigation Planning: A Case Study
  14. Complete Streets: Protecting Public Health
  15. Zoning and Lease Mediation as a Way to Retain Critical Small Businesses
  16. Segregation by Law and the Racial Inequity Pandemic
  17. Combating Food Swamps to Improve Equity and Public Health
  18. The Pandemic Plan for Healthy Buildings
  19. Remediating Distressed Properties to Improve Public Health
  20. Housing, a Crucial Determinant of Health
  21. ADU Introduction
  22. NIMBY Restrictions to Poison the Prospects of Accessory Dwelling Units to Address Housing Insecurity
  23. Zoning to Fill the Missing Middle Housing Gap
  24. Old Tools to Fight Housing Insecurity: Adaptive Reuse and Infill Development
  25. Racial Impact Analyses
  26. A New Era of Equity-Based Comprehensive Planning…Finally
  27. Equity-Based Comprehensive Plans: Land Use Policies to Correct Past Disparities
  28. Reversing the Legacy of Redlining: Reducing Exposure to Toxins and Pollutants Through Land Use Law Reform
  29. Addressing the Four Pandemics – A Case Study
  30. Health Impact Assessments: A New Tool for Analyzing Land Use Plans, Zone Changes, and Development Projects
  31. Putting the “e” in TOD
  32. The Four Pandemics Explained and Addressed by Land Use Law and Policy
  33. Gentrification: Remedies and Consequences
  34. What is Climate Gentrification and Why is it Different?
  35. Using Supportive Housing to Address Homelessness
  36. Low Carbon and Resilient Land Use: Part 1
  37. Low Carbon and Resilient Land Use: Part 2


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