Louisiana Land Use Toolkit 3.0
View Resource at https://www.adaptationclearinghouse.org/resources/louisiana-land-use-toolkit-3-0.html
Parishes and municipalities can manage new and existing development by deploying a suite of complementary measures, including local comprehensive plans and land-use and zoning ordinances.See footnote 1 Local comprehensive plans (also called master plans) shape long-term development and future planning for land use and transportation, which can then be implemented through land-use and zoning ordinances.See footnote 2 These ordinances, in turn, govern the location, height, size, and function of buildings that can be situated within a certain geographic area, as well as the how the land may be used (residential, transportation, commercial, agricultural, industrial, public use, or recreational). Zoning ordinances are then enforced through zoning permits, which are granted to authorize new development projects.
Land use and zoning can play a critical role in increasing affordable housing in a region. Zoning may be used to increase density to allow more units to be built in certain areas — thereby maximizing their land use — or by permitting mixed-use zoning to allow commercial buildings to be developed alongside residential areas. Zoning regulations can also help address concerns about the impact of new development on the surrounding neighborhood and minimize disruptions, for example, by prohibiting the construction of a highway through residential neighborhoods or the installation of a sewage treatment plant across the street from a home.
In Louisiana, some parishes and incorporated municipalities have zoning and others do not. This can lead local policymakers to develop innovative strategies to guide the use of the land and future development. The absence of zoning is not uncommon, as not all local jurisdictions have zoning or comprehensive plans. The City of Houston, Texas is one of the most well-known examples and the only major American city that does not currently use zoning ordinances to shape development.See footnote 3 Instead, Houston uses what has been called “de facto zoning,” referring to land-use regulations that serve similar functions as zoning ordinances, for example, restrictions on lot sizes; buffering ordinances that restrict building height, setback requirements, and construction styles; and deed restrictions that impose limits or conditions on the use or activities that may take place on properties.See footnote 4
This objective identifies tools and strategies that parishes and municipalities in Region Seven with and without zoning can both consider.
There are a variety of strategies that local policymakers can adopt to shape land use, planning, and development including:
The strategies below can be deployed in the absence of or independently from zoning ordinances or local comprehensive plans.
Communities that are not ready for comprehensive planning or zoning ordinances may consider adopting subdivision regulations, which govern the division of land into two or more lots and specify the standards and requirements for making the property suitable for development. Unlike zoning, which determines the permitted type and density of development within a prescribed community, subdivision regulations ensure that the division of land into smaller lots or parcels reflects the physical characteristics of the site and is usable and safe. For example, subdivision regulations can be used to avoid the creation of oddly shaped lots, ensure that each lot is connected to roads or sidewalks with adequate access for emergency vehicles, and that there is adequate stormwater management.
Subdivision regulations can be used to mitigate flood risk and limit new development in flood-prone areas. For example, parishes and municipalities can limit or restrict development immediately adjacent to bodies of water, or increase setbacks from floodplains. Subdivision regulations can also be used to keep buildings out of the floodplain by promoting cluster developments to concentrate buildings outside of areas with high flood risk, which can simultaneously preserve open space and preserve the natural floodplain. Notably, many of these activities are credited under the Community Rating System, as described below.
The Community Rating System (CRS) is a subprogram of the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) that incentivizes participating communities to go above and beyond the NFIP’s minimum standards in return for flood insurance premium discounts.See footnote 5 Reduced insurance rates can provide an economic incentive for improving floodplain management practices while building political support to make regulatory changes.
Communities can receive CRS credits by participating in a range of activities — from public outreach to land use — which then qualifies them to receive a classification rating that corresponds to insurance discounts. The activities range from public outreach projects on flood risk management or making flood-protecting information publicly available, to more time or resource-intensive activities like stormwater management or removing buildings from the regulatory floodplain. Importantly, CRS credits communities for activities that minimize flood risk for new development, including preserving open space (Activity 420); protecting natural floodplain functions (Activities 420 and 510); promoting higher regulatory standards, and regulating new development in the floodplain (Activities 430 and 310); regulating development in the watershed (Activity 450); and managing special flood-related hazards, such as coastal erosion or migrating stream channels (Activities 420 and 430). The points are distributed on a sliding scale. For example, maximum credit (250 points) is given when the entire floodplain in a subdivision is set aside as open space, while only 25 points are given for regulations that permit cluster development through subdivisions.See footnote 6 For more information on leveraging the CRS program, see the Introduction to Goal Two and Objective 2.3.
Many communities in Louisiana and nationwide have large inventories of land that are vacant, abandoned, or blighted, much of which is concentrated in historically redlined neighborhoods — the same neighborhoods that face a shortage of quality, affordable housing and are also more likely to experience higher flood risk.See footnote 7 However, the time, cost, and resources necessary to acquire and obtain title to these properties can hamper efforts to develop affordable housing. (For more information on maximizing the use of vacant, abandoned, and blight properties, see Objective 1.3).
Increasingly, however, local governments are converting these properties back into productive use through the creation of land banks. Land banks are public entities (e.g., public nonprofit or government entities) that have been granted special powers through state enabling legislation to remove legal and financial barriers which can hinder the sale of the property on the private market.See footnote 8 Barriers may include tax liens that exceed the value of the property, or when the costs of repair exceed projected revenue that could be generated from the property. State enabling legislation, which varies from state to state, can permit land banks to overcome many of those barriers, including extinguishing past public liens and acquiring tax-delinquent properties at substantially less than the amount due on the property. Accordingly, land banks have greater flexibility than many local governments to market and convey properties in a way that prioritizes desired community outcomes — such as building affordable housing — rather than the highest offer on the property.See footnote 9
As of 2021, there are over 250 land banks in the country, including three in Louisiana developed by Build Baton Rouge (formerly the East Baton Rouge Redevelopment Authority); Lafayette Land Revitalization Authority; and New Orleans Redevelopment Authority.See footnote 10
Parishes and municipalities that have not adopted local comprehensive plans or zoning ordinances could consider working with local stakeholders in the community to identify local priorities in housing, environment, and other focus areas to help guide local decisionmaking. These priorities can be included in other types of planning efforts at different scales, from the regional to the neighborhood level. For example, the Louisiana Strategic Adaptations for Future Environments (LA SAFE) Adaptation Strategies adopted a regional approach to addressing coastal flood risk, and included strategies to support resilience across multiple sectors, including in housing. In order to support parishes in reaching their housing and development goals, the strategies identify projects that direct development to low-risk areas and prepare for population growth.
In addition to incorporating housing in adaptation and resilience plans, parishes and municipalities could also consider supporting neighborhood-scale community planning processes. For example, the Scotlandville Community Strategic Plan (Community Plan) was developed by a consortium of universities and other nongovernmental institutions to develop community visions for housing and other services to increase community resources and enhance resilience to housing and environmental chances, among other stressors. Among its recommendations, the Community Plan proposed goals for expanding housing types to meet the needs of different types of residents at different income levels, as well as activities to encourage green development.
Although it was developed to help guide the implementation of the East Baton Rouge Parish Comprehensive Plan, the Community Plan remains a notable example for jurisdictions that do not currently have local comprehensive planning processes, illustrating the process of integrating extensive community participation and perspectives from a diverse array of public and private stakeholders that collaborated to shape long-term development in the area. The Community Plan was developed by Southern University and the Southern University System Foundation, and incorporated the input of city staff, local and statewide nonprofits (including the Center for Planning Excellence), and consulting groups. This type of community engagement process, combined with the array of far-ranging and substantive recommendations for community resilience, can be used as a blueprint or springboard for future planning efforts in local communities.
When prioritizing land-use tools to encourage development in low-flood-risk urban areas, decisionmakers may consider the following considerations and practice tips that apply to one or more of the strategies described above:
These tips are based on priority implementation best practices and considerations most relevant to this specific objective, and do not present an exhaustive list for regional and local planners and policymakers. In addition to this objective, decisionmakers should, at a minimum, also refer to Goal Five for crosscutting considerations and practice tips including structuring equitable and inclusive community engagement processes and evaluating opportunities to build public-private-nonprofit-community partnerships.
Activities that are ripe for regional coordination include developing a multi-jurisdictional regional Program for Public Information (PPI) to help participating members coordinate messaging around flood risk as well as increase CRS credits for community outreach activities. Compared to many of the other CRS activities, developing a PPI is less resource-intensive. Communities that share similar flood hazards can also share and disseminate similar public outreach information. Communities could also recruit a regional CRS coordinator to provide technical assistance to local governments on best practices for CRS participation. By sharing information and other resources, smaller and less-resourced jurisdictions, in particular, could collectively maximize the CRS credits earned in individual jurisdictions while enhancing regional flood resilience.See footnote 11
By the same token, jurisdictions that are not currently participating in the CRS could help build political support to enroll in the program by highlighting the experience of similarly situated jurisdictions that have used the CRS to help residents save on insurance premiums. In making the case to local leadership, government staff could point to the relative ease of participating in certain activities, such as public outreach, to reach CRS benchmarks that lead to longer-term cost-saving measures.
The summaries below highlight resources and case studies available in Georgetown Climate Center’s Adaptation Clearinghouse that are relevant to this objective. They illustrate how many of the above benefits, practice tips, and planning, legal, and policy tools were or are being evaluated and used in practice in different jurisdictions. To learn more and navigate to the Adaptation Clearinghouse, click on the “View Resource” buttons.
1. The Louisiana State Constitution authorizes local government subdivisions (i.e., parishes and municipalities) to adopt regulations for land use, zoning, and historic preservation. Art. VI, Section 17. Similarly, local government subdivisions are likewise authorized to create planning commissions to develop a master plan for the physical development of local government subdivisions. Back to contentBack to content
2. Elements of a Comprehensive Plan, Zoning and Planning Deskbook § 16:2 (2d ed.). In many states, zoning codes are required to be consistent with the local comprehensive plan. In some states, however, zoning may be enforced under the local government’s police powers, even in the absence of a comprehensive plan. Back to contentBack to content
3. Ryan Holeywell, Forget What You’ve Heard, Houston Really Does Have Zoning (Sort of), Kinder Institute for Urban Research (Sep. 8, 2015). Back to contentBack to content
5. Fed. Emergency Mgmt. Agency, National Flood Insurance Program Community Rating System: Coordinator’s Manual (2017), available at View Source. | Back to contentBack to content
6. CRS Activity 422.f. (Open space incentives). Id. at 420–25. Back to contentBack to content
7. Lily Katz, A Racist Past a Flooding Future: Formerly Redlined Areas Have $107 Billion Worth of Homes Facing High Flood Risk—25% More Than Non-Redlined Areas, Redin (Mar. 14, 2021), View Source; Alex Woodword, How 'Redlining' Shaped New Orleans Neighborhoods - Is It Too Late to be Fixed, Gambit (Jan. 21, 2019), View Source; Stacy Seischnaydre, et al., Rigging the Real Estate Market: Segregation, Inequality, and Disaster Risk, FL Housing (May 2018), View Source. | Back to contentBack to content
8. Emily Thaden et. al., Land Banks and Community Land Trusts: Not Synonyms or Antonyms. Complements, Shelterforce (Nov. 9, 2016). Back to contentBack to content
9. Land Banks and Community Land Trusts: Partnering to Provide Equitable Housing Opportunities Now and for Future Generations, Ctr. for Cmty. Progress (2021). Back to contentBack to content
10. National Land Bank Map, Ctr. for Cmty. Progress, View Source (last visited Apr. 10, 2022). | Back to contentBack to content
11. Fed. Emergency Mgmt. Agency, Fact Sheet: Small Communities in the CRS (June 2018), available at View Source. | Back to contentBack to content
Read Previous Section Read Next SectionBack to top