Green Development Codes/Ordinances
Imagine living in a home with a "net zero" energy balance from public utilities, where all residents can walk outside in safety without concerns about vehicle traffic, where natural landscaping enhances open spaces, and where pollution is almost non-existent. These "green" developments have been proposed in Chester County and elsewhere, and are close to becoming reality. Municipalities can promote green developments by encouraging these innovative designs and techniques in municipal subdivision and land development ordinances. This tool discusses some of the actions that local municipalities can take to encourage sustainable or green land developments, promote energy efficient construction and building techniques, and encourage environmentally-sustainable stormwater management practices.
Green land development ordinances provide the following advantages:
- Energy Conservation: The use of green development practices and techniques can reduce the long-term use of energy.
- Financial Benefits: Houses (as well as non-residential structures) built in developments using green design principles can require less energy to heat and cool, thus allowing financial resources to be directed towards other appropriate areas.
- Encourages Market Acceptance: Developments using green technology can stimulate more such developments and can help increase their market acceptance.
- Lowers Pollution: Sustainable land developments can reduce air pollution and improve indoor air quality.
- Environmental Protection: Green developments can help protect sensitive environmental areas through their preservation and by removing pollutants.
- Safety: Green developments stress the safety of their residents, including roadway and environmental safety.
Land development ordinances that incorporate green technologies and principles can meet some barriers:
- Resistance to Innovation: Green ordinances and developments can appear to be new and untried, and the market may resist them.
- Perception of High Price: Some green development practices have higher initial costs, but these costs are generally offset by lower long-term operating expenses.
- Lack of Expertise: Green development practices can require additional municipal administrative skills and knowledge.
How to Use This Tool
Municipalities can encourage the use of green developments by reviewing their zoning ordinances and (sometimes more particularly) their subdivision and land development ordinances. These ordinances should include provisions that encourage:
- Appropriate Location: The zoning ordinance should encourage green land developments to be located in areas that are planned for growth, where utilities are available, and which are served by public transit.
- Walkability: Developments should be encouraged to locate in areas where residents can walk to shopping, employment and other destinations, rather than use automobiles.
- Solar Orientation: Subdivision and land development ordinances should encourage structures to face south to take advantage of photo-voltaic electricity generation and passive heating.
- Enhanced Insulation and Energy-Efficiency: Municipalities cannot supersede the standards in the Pennsylvania Uniform Construction Code, but they can encourage the use of building materials that exceed the minimum requirements by offering incentives such as additional development density. Ordinances should stress the use of doors and windows that have the highest available insulating values.
- "Permaculture" Landscaping: Native plants should be used in all landscaping, which should be designed to be self-sustaining with little or no supplemental water, pesticide and herbicide applications or required weeding. Landscaping can also include community gardens and the use of edible plants.
- Rainwater Harvesting: Ordinances can encourage the use of cisterns to capture rainwater that can be used for irrigation, cleaning and other non-potable uses. Rainwater harvesting can also reduce the potential for stormwater runoff and erosion.
- LEED for Neighborhood Development: LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) is a voluntary, consensus-based, market-driven program that provides third-party verification of green buildings and developments, and is administered by the U. S. Green Building Council. LEED for Neighborhood Development integrates the principles of smart growth, urbanism, green building and neighborhood design. The Pennsylvania Uniform Construction Code does not require LEED certification, but municipalities can still encourage its use through incentives such as by allowing additional development density or by discounting part of the application fee for building permits.
- Public Transit: If the land development can support it, the municipal ordinance should require provisions for a public transit facility.
- Adaptive Reuse: Existing dwellings and structures in a land development should be retained and reused; incentives can encourage their preservation by excluding these dwellings from the site's potential allowable density. In-fill development is a related green land development opportunity.
- Innovative Stormwater Management: Rain gardens and vegetated roofs can be encouraged.
Newlin Township's Subdivision and Land Development Ordinance was amended in 2013 and includes innovative design initiatives such as a "Four-Step Design Process" that emphasizes environmental sensitivity in the location of structures, a greenway and greenbelt design, ownership and management plan, environmental impact and traffic assessments, a natural resource delineation and protection plan and extensive landscaping requirements.