Sensitive Area Protections

Instead of targeting specific natural resources for protection by means of a single regulatory approach (as in Adopt Model Ordinance Language Targeted At A Single Natural Resource), many communities have folded basic separation distances (setback provisions) into sensitive area or natural features provisions. These regulations list a set of sensitive areas or natural features that exist in the community and then require that all new structures or intensive use areas of the proposed development be set back at least a certain specified distance from the identified natural feature. Such provisions have been applied to shoreline, waterfront, floodplain, wetland, woodland, sand dune, and high-risk erosion areas.

Because of an Attorney General opinion (No. 6892, March 5, 1996) that says setbacks from wetlands may not be required under a wetland ordinance, but may be required if properly crafted as part of a zoning ordinance regulating natural features, it is important for communities to be very careful about how natural features are defined and how such regulations are crafted. In some ordinances these provisions are called buffer strip or greenbelt provisions.

For more information, see Appendix R – Sensitive Areas Protection.

Credit: Filling the Gaps