Landscape Ordinances

Landscape ordinances traditionally prescribe some type of visual buffer between newly created and existing developments. They also set standards for the minimum required landscaping for new developments. 

There are generally three types of landscape ordinances:

  • Comprehensive – What needs to be saved. Focuses on landscape features and vegetation that exist before construction begins.
  • Post-construction – What needs to be added prior to occupancy. Focuses on individual site plans.  
  • Tree ordinances – Trees in public rights-of-way. Focuses on how a community wants to select, plant, maintain and protect its trees.

As communities have begun to understand the importance and benefits of landscape requirements, and as those goals and objectives are included in general and comprehensive plans, landscape requirements have evolved and begun to include far greater objectives. These include increased natural beauty, the value of open space, preservation of historic or significant trees and native plant species, buffering and screening, visually breaking up parking lots and other large manmade hardscapes, and providing shade. Additionally, they can enhance air quality, improve drainage, and help prevent erosion.

Appropriate manipulation of the landscape can make a significant difference and contribution to the survivability of a structure during a wildfire. While landscape standards are often focused on the aesthetic dimensions of landscaping, they can also be used to promote the use of fire-resistant plants and can focus on vegetation management requirements in the structural ignition zone. These include:

  • Types of species
  • Spacing of vegetation
  • Removal of dead or flammable species
  • Considerations of slope/ravine
  • Other techniques that can mitigate a hazard to the structure

Some communities have also adopted either a prohibited flammable-plant list or an allowed plant material list. These lists can be tied to distances from a structure at a lot-level scale or geographic locations within the community (high vs moderate hazard areas). It is recommended that these guidelines be directly adopted into the zoning code as this will increase the chance for updates to the plant list as the community’s goals and objectives change and as the science of wildfire evolves. 

Additionally, fencing and retaining wall requirements are sometimes included in the landscape code.  Consideration should be given to wildfire mitigation standards by requiring non-combustible fence material within a certain distance of a structure. 

Community Examples

Ashland, OR –The City of Ashland’s Wildfire Ordinance includes detailed landscape requirements that are broken down into easy-to-navigate subsections. The landscape standards apply to all properties within the city limits; additional sections apply to all properties within the city limits and within the Wildfire Lands Overlay zone. These include:

  • New landscaping
  • Landscaping as it relates to new decks, additions, or accessory structures
  • New construction
  • Required submittals for subdivisions, multi-family, partitions, and commercial developments
  • Fences

A separate resolution was adopted to identify the specific plant species to be included on the prohibited flammable-plant list.

Sample Language

Ashland’s Wildfire Safety Ordinance | “Ashland’s setting, history of wildfires, and increasingly long, hot, and dry summers put us at high fire risk each year. One piece of an overall strategy to better protect our community from wildfire was adopted by the City Council in 2018….the expanded and enhanced wildfire safety ordinance.”