Wetland and Shoreland Zoning Tools
Resource Protection Ordinances
Several towns have chosen to adopt resource protection ordinances that implement specific protections for natural resources that fall through the gaps of typical shoreland zoning rules. Most of these municipal approaches target wetlands smaller than the shoreland zoning 10-acre threshold, often including all wetlands, even small forested wetlands. Many towns have also included protections for headwater streams whereas shoreland zoning guidelines generally limit stream protections to those larger stretches below the confluence of two perennial streams as depicted on USGS maps.
How These Ordinances Work
The Town of Falmouth example, attached below, addresses wetlands, streams, and vernal pools and is crafted to apply town-wide, both within and outside of the traditional shoreland zone. The Falmouth approach, defines two categories of wetlands that must be buffered from residential development. The wetland categories (High Value and Low Value) are distinguished primarily based on observable wetland hydrology, mapped hydric soil types, and the wetland plant community present. The presence of a locally defined vernal pool will also trigger High Value status. This ordinance also establishes buffer requirements for each resource type and offers a relatively simple approach that could be easily adopted even by Towns that do not have the staffing resources to take on a more complex ordinance.
Cape Elizabeth has taken what is arguably the most comprehensive approach to wetland protection at the local level in Maine. Their approach, also attached below, adds certain wetlands to the Shoreland Zoning Resource Protection district, establishes buffer requirements, defines allowed uses, and creates a permit process for activities within the Resource Protection zones.
The Cape Elizabeth ordinance creates three Resource Protection zones. Two of these are specific to freshwater wetlands that are not necessarily protected under state shoreland zoning guidelines. The third zone addresses flood prone areas, steep banks, and areas subject to erosion hazards. Similar to the Falmouth approach, Cape Elizabeth's ordinance distinguishes its wetland focused Resource Protection zones based on soil drainage classes and vegetation ratings as well as wetland size.