Building Local Climate Resiliency with Land Use Rules

Planting a Tree

Climate change, including rising temperatures, sea level rise, stronger storms, and more frequent droughts are impacting people and natural communities. Excessive pavement, loss of trees and wetland buffers, and development in floodplains worsens these impacts.

At the local level, municipalities have significant power to avoid these impacts by implementing land use policies and development designs. Municipalities can be proactive by adopting rules that support nature-based solutions to combat climate change.

Low Impact Development

Low Impact Development (LID) uses natural systems to manage stormwater and decrease the impact of development, by using trees and other vegetation to filter and infiltrate water and provide shade and cooling.

Done right, LID minimizes alteration of forests, wetlands, and greenspaces; reduces impervious surfaces; and supports retention of naturally vegetated buffers along wetlands and waterways. Constructed LID features like rain gardens, street trees, and permeable pavers also help:

  • Minimize costs of development and local infrastructure maintenance (e.g. roads and stormwater)
  • Reduce flooding
  • Improve water quality
  • Protect and restore natural features that improve quality of life and property values

Our series of five fact sheets reviews how LID can help communities save land, water, and money.

Local Bylaw Review

For communities to see the benefits of LID and other nature-based climate solutions, they have to encourage them in their regulations and bylaws. The first step in that process is assessing existing regulations and identifying where sustainable development and nature-based climate solutions fit in.

Our bylaw review tool will help you become more familiar with any best practices your community is already following, and where it can improve. This Excel-based analysis tool incorporates local, regional, state, and federal best practices. It also allows users to evaluate existing land use regulations in comparison to these best practices in a “conventional,” “better,” and “best” format in relation to over 30 considerations (such as street width, erosion control measures, sidewalk drainage, and more).

Users can evaluate local Zoning, Site Plan Review, Subdivision Rules and Regulations, Stormwater or LID bylaw, and cluster or Open Space Residential Design bylaws. While the focus is primarily on residential development, the concepts are also applicable to other forms of development and redevelopment.

Download the Tool

 Please Note: The tool is formatted as a .xlsx file; you must have access to Microsoft Excel or another compatible program in order to open and use it.

How to Use It

Get more info about Community Climate Resilience and how to use the tool >

Tips to Keep in Mind for Local Planning

There are a few things to keep in mind while using this tool that aren’t explicitly included as considerations but are crucially important to encourage climate-smart nature-based solutions.

  1. Interdepartmental coordination is key. Conservation, development, and resilience affect every board in different ways. Make sure to have multiple boards working together—from the health department to the depart of public works.
  2. Design for the storms of the future, not the storms of past. Make sure new development will withstand not only the current amounts of precipitation we’re seeing, but also the precipitation that’s expected during the useful lifetime of the infrastructure. Building to outdated design standards will give you infrastructure that’s destined to fail with the changing climate.
  3. Have conversations early and often. Requiring or requesting preliminary designs from developers allows boards to start the conversation early about the community’s goals and what they’d like to see incorporated. This is a chance to talk about the importance of retaining open space, managing stormwater on site, and other large-scale issues so the developers can make sure to address the concerns without extensive (and expensive) redesigns.

Additional Resources

The Southeast New England Program Network provides training and assistance to municipalities, organizations, and tribes to advance stormwater and watershed management, ecological restoration, and climate resilience in Rhode Island and Massachusetts.

The Massachusetts Municipal Vulnerability Program (MVP) assists communities in addressing the challenges of climate change and prioritizing actions to create a safer and more resilient future.