In this report, low impact development (LID) refers to any land use strategy that promotes the retention or addition of vegetation on or around land development that mitigates and adapts to climate change. LID is often pigeonholed as a stormwater management technique; here we define it as any method cities use to require private development to use the vegetated environment to achieve climate resilient development. Cities across the country use LID to manage stormwater runoff as part of their overall land use strategy. With climate change becoming increasingly prevalent, cities are now looking for additional ways to adapt to future climate events such as rising sea levels and more intense and frequent storms. Cities that adopt these contemporary land-use strategies may also be eligible for certification under the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program for Cities and Communities.

LEED certification is a product of the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC). LEED has different certifications for LEED for Buildings and LEED for Neighborhood Development. LEED for Buildings is split into new buildings and existing buildings. LEED certification for new buildings provides the structure for building comprehensive green buildings.  LEED for existing buildings supports whole buildings and interior spaces that have been fully operating for at least one year. LEED for Neighborhood Development is split into two sections, Plan and Built Project. LEED for Neighborhood Development Plan, applies to neighborhoods that are currently in any phase of planning and design up to 75 percent constructed. LEED for Neighborhood Development Built Plan is for projects that are near completion or were completed within the last 3 years.

In 2016, USGBC added to its individual and neighborhood building rating systems LEED v4.1 for Cities and Communities. The purpose is to help make communities more sustainable, equitable, and resilient. The different categories that LEED v4.1 focuses on are natural systems, transportation, water, energy, resources, and quality of life. The most relevant category for LID projects is natural resource conservation and restoration. The points required to earn certification offer cities a technical checklist of strategies to achieve low impact development and an incentive to participate. That the incentive works is evident in that there are over 300 certified cities worldwide.

For natural resource conservation and restoration, there are two options to meet the requirement for the credit for cities in the planning and design stage. The first is natural resource acreage which has two choices. One can either maintain natural resource acreage at 861 square feet per capita or at 11.5% or more of total jurisdictional land area. The second option is to adopt a natural resource conservation and restoration plan from the last five years or develop one based on NS Prerequisite: Ecosystem Assessment. Picking either of the two options for natural resource conservation will help LID. LID includes the practice of mimicking the natural processes that result in the infiltration of stormwater to maintain high water quality. Maintaining natural resources will help with water runoff and will keep water clean. Naperville, Illinois is an example of how LID can help mitigate climate change. At the Tellabs corporate campus, which contains 55 acres, developers were able to preserve the site’s natural drainage features and reduce costs. Bioswales and other infiltration techniques were used in parking lots to help manage stormwater. By maximizing the number of natural areas on the campus, the need for irrigation systems was eliminated.

An example of a LEED success story for cities and communities can be found in Santa Monica, California. Santa Monica is the first city to reach the Platinum level of certification under LEED v4.1. Santa Monica was able to achieve this level of certification by reducing its emissions by 60 percent from 1990. The city has been able to provide 100 percent renewable energy to 94 percent of properties in Santa Monica. Additionally, Santa Monica received a high number of points for its transportation systems. Cities are incentivized to become LEED certified because under LEED certification for buildings they can receive expedited review and permitting processes, density and height bonuses, tax credits, property tax reductions, fee reductions or waivers, grants, and revolving loan funds. The USGBC offers unique incentives at the state, city, and county level under LEED building certification. An example of a LEED Certificate incentive targeted at the county level is seen in Howard County, Maryland. This county offers a High-Performance Building Credit for commercial and multifamily buildings. A property tax credit is given when at least a LEED Silver rating is achieved. New construction can receive a five-year property tax credit up to 75 percent while existing buildings can receive a three-year tax credit up to 50 percent.

LEED for Cities and Communities helps encapsulate different aspects of LID. Cities gain points when they have stormwater management, wastewater management, and smart water systems. Implementing these strategies will help cities keep their waterways cleaner and will save money. Human activity has caused a climate crisis. Climate change has affected water security. About half of the world population suffers from severe water scarcity for at least part of the year and extreme heat has caused an increase in water-borne diseases. Furthermore, it is predicted that continued global warming will cause an intensified global water cycle. Implementing LID can help mitigate these climate change effects. Climate change will continue to intensify, so action needs to be taken right away.

This article is part of a series from the Land Use Law Center that explores how local governments can implement Climate Resilient Development (CRD) as defined in the Sixth Assessment Report of the IPCC. CRD requires innovative reform of land use planning and regulation by local governments. The series presents and analyzes numerous local laws and policies capable of adapting to and mitigating climate change to create equitable and sustainable neighborhoods, achieving “sustainable development for all.” 

Author: Mackenzie Wittig, 1L Land Use Scholar