Beginning with Habitat


Land Use Ordinance Tools

1. Introduction | 2. Wildlife Habitat Overlay District | 3. Transfer of Development Rights | 4. Open Space Impact Fees | 5. Conservation Subdivision Ordinance | 6. Land Use Ordinance Performance Standards

Introduction to Land Use Ordinance Tools


The local land use ordinance is the primary regulatory mechanism that a town typically has at its disposal allowing it to review development proposals and to provide clear guidance to applicants concerning how development proposals are expected to balance economic benefits to the land owner with greater community values such as clean water, habitat conservation, and town character as identified in the comprehensive plan. The standards set through the ordinance are what your town is limited to in terms of legally enforceable planning board review and powers of the code enforcement officer. Once the bar is set through your local ordinance, your town's ability to negotiate greater public benefit is limited to the good will of the project applicant. It is, therefore, important to carefully consider which tools are appropriate to ultimately guide local development in a direction that best meets the objectives identified in your comprehensive plan, open space plan or other guiding documents.

The State Planning Office (SPO) has prepared a document titled "How to Write a Land Use Ordinance", that may be useful for your community. This manual is for local officials, planning committees, and others in small to mid-size communities who are interested in preparing a local ordinance to implement their comprehensive plan. It contains basic information needed to draft a land use ordinance and contains suggestions for amending existing ordinances. While "How to Write a Land Use Ordinance" provides a good general overview of land use ordinances, the following examples provide an in-depth look at land use ordinances with habitat-oriented goals.

Example Tools

  • Wildlife Habitat Overlay Districts- A tool to reduce habitat fragmentation resulting from residential development and the division of land using unfragmented blocks of forest and connecting overland corridors as its focus.
  • Transfer of Development Rights- A tool that provides incentives to encourage land conservation in rural areas and transfer development to growth areas.
  • Open Space Impact Fees- A tool to equip a municipality with a mechanism to pay for future green space, open land, and/or recreational facilities by requiring a fee for new development to cover the need for additional open space and recreation facilities.
  • Conservation Subdivision Ordinances- An open space "cluster" subdivision approach that considers municipal conservation land priorities in subdivision and open space design, enabling towns to better negotiate how future development will fit into its rural landscape and to better maintain town-wide landscape-level habitat benefits.
  • Land Use Ordinance Performance Standards- Standards to clarify and expand on criteria identified in the State of Maine Subdivision Law to better maintain town-wide habitat benefits.

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