Resilient Coastal Development Through Land Use Planning: Tools and Management Techniques in the Gulf of Mexico

This toolkit identifies ways to strengthen community resilience through land use planning, focusing specifically on options for the Gulf Coast and the unique considerations related to state laws. The resource also discusses the side benefits of resiliency, like participation in the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) and a preferred score on the Community Rating System to achieve discounts on flood insurance premiums in qualifying communities.

The majority of the toolkit focuses on land use strategies available to municipalities and examples where the strategy has successfully been used along the Gulf Coast, including:

Comprehensive Land Use Planning

Communities can use the comprehensive land use planning process to incorporate coastal resilience. Specifically, they can designate priority areas for resource protection, high hazard areas where development should be limited, and more stable areas where development is safe. Islamorada, Florida and Corpus Christi, Texas are two Gulf Coast municipalities that have used the comprehensive planning process to promote resilience. 

The report discusses a few zoning techniques communities can use to encourage resilience:

  • Overlay Zoning: Can be used to encourage or discourage development in specific areas by providing additional zoning regulations within a district. Overlay zoning is allowed in all the Gulf States and has been used by in Florida and Alabama to protect waterfronts.
  • Floating Zones: Allows authorities to delineate conditions that must be met before that type of zoning district can be approved for an existing piece of land. They can be used when existing zoning laws are not flexible enough to change quickly. Each of the Gulf States recognizes floating zones.
  • Impact Fees: Municipalities can assess impact fees upon the construction of new developments. These fees can be used to fund a variety of policies, but they are subject to some regulations that vary by state.
  • Transfer of Development Rights (TDR): This mechanism gives landowners the ability to transfer the right to develop property under the current zoning provisions from their property to another property within the community. TDR is used to preserve open spaces, farms, forests, or critical environmental areas. TDR programs are expressly recognized in the state laws of Florida, Louisiana, and Texas.
  • Exactions: These require a developer to set aside a portion of their land to mitigate impacts that the development will have on the community.
  • Form-Based Codes: Form-based codes are a method to control the physical aspects of buildings, rather than the specific land use. To encourage resilience, communities can adopt “smart codes” that require sustainability measures. Pass Christian, Mississippi adopted a smart code in 2009.

Building Regulation

States may adopt statewide minimum threshold building regulations while allowing local communities to adopt more stringent codes tailored to their needs and goals. Building codes may address a variety of factors such as building elevation, energy efficiency, wind resistance, and fire hazards. The report provides more details into the building codes of each of the Gulf States.

Land Use Tools

The report outlines a number of land use techniques that can encourage resilience, including

  • Smart Growth: An approach to land use development that guides communities to focus on economic development, energy conservation, transportation consideration, and the natural environment. The report links several additional resources detailing smart growth guidance.
  • Buffers and Setbacks: Vegetation can be used along waterways, wetlands, and other sensitive areas to provide flood control, water quality enhancement, bank stabilization, and habitat preservation. Buffers and setbacks can be established through city ordinance.
  • Conservation Easements: These allow local governments (or designated land trusts) to acquire easements on land of environmental value to protect property containing natural resources. The report links to drafting guidance from The Land Trust for the Mississippi Coastal Plain.
  • Conservation Subdivisions and Cluster Developments: These permit flexibility of building design in order to promote environmentally sensitive and efficient land use.
  • Floodplain Management: Most communities, as part of their participation in NFIP, have adopted floodplain management regulations designed to protect buildings in flood-prone areas. The guide describes and links the floodplain management plans of each of the five Gulf States.
  • Living Shorelines and Alternative Shoreline Stabilization: Living shorelines refer to the use of native plants or other alternative means to shoreline stabilization such as oyster reef restoration. Minimum requirements are set at the state and federal level, but local governments may enhance or promote living shorelines through local ordinances. Brevard County, Florida has successfully used living shorelines.
  • Low-Impact Development: Low-Impact Development (LID) is a design approach to managing stormwater by using natural features. Auburn, Alabama has incorporated LID into its local land use regulations through a Conservation Subdivision Ordinance.
  • Sediment and Erosion Control: Establishing sediment and erosion control regulations through local ordinances allows communities to prevent decreased water quality. Alabama developed an Erosion and Sediment Control Handbook that addresses general planning concepts and best practices.
  • Stormwater Management: Stormwater management is concerned with both water quality and water quantity. Florida Coastal Strategies provides a model for ordinance language.

This research was supported by the Gulf of Mexico Alliance Resilience Team with a grant from Mississippi Department of Marine Resources, through funding from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. 

Publication Date: April 11, 2013

Author or Affiliated User:

  • Niki L. Pace

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Resource Types:

  • Best practice
  • Legal Analysis

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