Zoning Issues

New Mexico and Texas municipalities that decide to update zoning codes to include advanced energy concerns can start by answering a few threshold questions. The following questions can frame the direction for new zoning measures:

  • Will the code address wind, solar, and other sustainability issues, or a combination of all three?
  • Will certain advanced energy uses be limited to special districts?
  • How will the zoning code interact with neighboring city, township, and county legislation?
  • Are wind turbines, solar panels, and geothermal systems considered a permitted use or allowed by zoning as-of-right?
  • Will the inclusion of advanced energy products be allowed based on objective criteria or a more subjective "impact" test?
  • Will a "bonus" system be implemented whereby increased density is allowed commensurate with use of sustainable practices?


After setting the general framework for a new zoning code, Ohio jurisdictions should consider the guiding principles that will determine if a project will focus on specific advanced energy land use practices or more general community planning language. Guiding principles should include:

  • Definitions of the advanced energy technologies involved that capture existing technologies, but leave reasonable room for new developments;
  • Building form and orientation for energy efficiency considerations; 
  • Landscaping principles;
  • Storm water management solutions;
  • Architectural expressions; 
  • Residential liveability;
  • Signage;
  • Safety; and
  • Removal/abandonment of equipment.

A green zoning code should pay particular attention to definitions, advanced energy project description and criteria, and any and all legal considerations. A thorough understanding of the advanced technologies that are currently on the market, as well as those in development is very helpful. Legal considerations may include anything from liability for damage caused by renewable product failure, structural and building code requirements, as well as any Federal Aviation Commission concerns or air and water rights. 

In addition, green zoning codes must take into consideration the issues of concern to residents and neighbors of advanced energy projects. Understanding light emittance, reflectivity and shadow flicker are important to developing a balanced zoning code. 

Why Density Matters. A "great debate" between sustainable development practices and environmentally friendly zoning may be looming for green zoning scholars and practitioners. At the forefront is a concept known as "density zoning," a type of cluster zoning used to regulate open spaces, population density, and land use. 

This focus on density can come in direct conflict with many advanced energy and environmentally friendly considerations. In particular, dense developments can contribute to increased runoff from impermeable surfaces and heightened "heat islands" which can drastically impact energy efficiency measures. 

Perhaps most important, the denser an urban neighborhood, the greater the risk of impacting small-scale wind and solar development.  Planned communities particularly may have direct conflict with such measures. 

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