Zoning Strategies

Summary of Decarbonize Land Development Report

The report provides a blueprint for developing solar-conscious land use practices to reduce dependence on fossil fuels. In 2022, the Connecticut legislature made a commitment to 100% renewable electricity by the year 2040. To achieve this goal, the state of Connecticut will need to make transformative investments in renewable energy – including mass deployment of photovoltaic panels for electricity and dramatic improvements in energy conservation programs. The report underscores the critical role of establishing solar access protections to ensure current and future investments in solar energy are not compromised by shadows cast by trees, buildings, and other objects. Connecticut is one of a limited number of states that has not adopted state-level solar access protections or solar easement laws – potentially undermining public confidence and private investment in photovoltaic electricity.

The report reviews a wide range of photovoltaic deployment strategies that fall within the authority of local governments through zoning and subdivision regulations. For example, six local land use strategies are identified that can help decarbonize the electric grid consistent with the recently expanded zoning authority to regulate solar-conscious development enabled by Public Act 21-29.  This is the first comprehensive analysis of existing Connecticut land use practices and their impact on solar-conscious patterns of development. For those concerned with climate change, the report identifies how local government regulations can minimize its impacts.

Flood Prevention Standards

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) requires local governments to participate in a federal flood prevention program to make homeowners eligible for federal flood insurance. All of Connecticut’s municipalities have adopted some form of flood prevention regulations – either as ordinances adopted by their legislative bodies or as zoning and subdivision regulations adopted by their planning and zoning commissions. This report summarizes the findings of a review of all municipal flood prevention regulations in Connecticut to identify best practices and areas where municipal regulations have failed to keep pace with rapidly changing meteorological and climate change conditions. This report reviews current flood prevention administrative practices, the degree to which compensatory flood storage policies have been adopted consistent with a 2004 state law, current municipal base flood elevation standards, and policies governing septic system leaching fields within the 100-year floodplain and near watercourses.

Riparian Corridor Protections

A summary of “The Case for Riparian Corridor Protections”

Following an explosion in scientific evidence pointing to the importance of riparian buffers as a means to reduce nonpoint source pollutants, on June 10, 2021 the Connecticut General Assembly enacted Public Act 21-29. This law expands the responsibility of zoning commissions in protecting the water quality of Long Island Sound from 24 coastal municipalities to all 169 municipalities of the state. In expanding local authority – and responsibility – over coastal water quality, the law will require broader development and implementation of zoning strategies to control the discharge of a wide range of water pollutants – including “dead zone” causing nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus.

All 169 municipalities in Connecticut meet the law’s definition of being “contiguous or on a navigable waterway draining to Long Island Sound.” As such, all municipalities will be subject from October 1, 2021 to the legal mandate that their zoning regulations:

  1. “be made with reasonable consideration for the restoration and protection of the ecosystem and habitat of Long Island Sound;
  2. be designed to reduce hypoxia, pathogens, toxic contaminants and floatable debris on Long Island Sound; and
  3. provide that such municipality’s zoning commission consider the environmental impact on Long Island Sound coastal resources, as defined in section 22a-93, of any proposal for development.” This change to state law will require revisions to zoning regulations in most municipalities.” (p. 7 of Public Act 21-29)

The linked report presents the history of past attempts to protect riparian corridors, the role riparian corridors play in reducing surface water pollution and hypoxia in Long Island Sound, reviews the range of riparian corridor protection strategies that have been adopted statewide, and provides model regulations for implementing Public Act 21-29.

Questions regarding these zoning strategies can be directed to Francis Pickering, Executive Director at WestCOG.