Zoning Regulations

Zoning regulations are a fundamental land use tool to guide new development, redevelopment, and amortization. As it relates to wildfire, zoning regulations can encourage development (or redevelopment) in areas with lower risk, discourage new development in areas of higher risk, and move toward amortization of vulnerable uses in areas of higher risk.

Zoning regulations generally include the following components:

  • Districts
  • Overlays
  • Land use

Zoning districts often include but are not limited to: residential, agricultural, industrial, and commercial. Zoning districts commonly regulate density. Each district usually has bulk standards, such as lot size requirements, setbacks from adjacent property lines, and landscaped open space. Site development standards, such as structure location and design, transportation access, parking, and landscaping requirements, can be integrated within zoning districts’ regulations.

As they are not bound to a particular zoning district, overlay districts often regulate environmental needs and specific community priorities spanning multiple zoning districts. Standards such as airport compatibility, floodplain management, and steep slopes are often adopted as overlay districts due to the tool’s ability to complement, supplement, or supplant base zoning regulations.

Based on zoning and overlay districts, parcels will have a list of permissible land uses. These land uses determine the intensity of the use, the type of establishment, and the approval process for the development. Some development types may be allowed by-right, while others may require additional administrative review by a staff person or quasi-judicial review by a board, providing the opportunities to require contextual risk-reduction measures. Communities with wildfire risk could utilize land uses to bolster mitigation measures by restricting the placement of critical facilities or requiring additional mitigation for uses with hazardous materials.

Many communities are unifying regulations that govern land development into one ordinance to reduce complexity for users and make it easier for communities to update one ordinance rather than multiple. A unified development ordinance could include regulations such as zoning, subdivision, open space, and other ancillary codes.

Community Examples

Gunnison County, Colorado  Gunnison County’s Land Use Resolution incorporates wildfire risk-reduction strategies throughout its land use resolution. Regulations include unsuitable locations for development, protective covenants regulations, and rights-of-way regulations for emergency access and evacuation. In addition, the regulations require a wildfire mitigation plan for all parcels located within any mapped wildfire hazard area.

Sample Language

Gunnison County’s Land Use Resolution“There are certain types of land in Gunnison County that may be hazardous to human life and safety and to property due to their potential for wildfire. The purpose of this Section is to ensure that development avoids these hazard areas whenever possible. When avoidance is not possible, to provide standards to reduce or minimize the potential threats that wildfire may pose to the safety of occupants, their property, and emergency service personnel.” “Development shall be prohibited on any slope in excess of 30 percent that is also located in an area that is determined to be a severe wildfire hazard area.”