Greauxing Resilience at Home: A Regional Vision

Objective 3.2:

Identify land-use tools to incentivize new development towards low-flood-risk areas, and which can be implemented in jurisdictions that have not yet adopted comprehensive plans or zoning regulations.

The Need

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.

How to Make Progress on This Objective 

There are a variety of strategies that local policymakers can adopt to shape land use, planning, and development including: 

  • Adopting subdivision regulations;
  • Participating in the Community Rating System;
  • Creating land banks to place vacant, abandoned, and blighted land back into productive use; and/or
  • Supporting the creation of community plans to lead local priorities in housing and environment

The strategies below can be deployed in the absence of or independently from zoning ordinances or local comprehensive plans.

Subdivision Regulations

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.

Community Rating System 

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.

Land Banks  

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. 

Crosscutting Considerations and Practice Tips

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: 

  • Consult existing templates and resources for drafting subdivision regulations
  • Encourage regional coordination on CRS activities
  • Build public-private-nonprofit-community partnerships

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.

  • Consult existing templates and resources for drafting subdivision regulations: In communities that are not ready to adopt zoning ordinances but are exploring the idea of adopting subdivision regulations, policymakers could consult local resources that provide model language and help tailor the regulation to the particular needs of the community. For example, the Louisiana Land Use Toolkit 3.0 and Louisiana Coastal Land Use Toolkit, developed by the Center for Planning Excellent (CPEX) in 2021, offer a customizable regulatory framework for land use and development, and include model subdivision codes that incorporate sustainable development and Smart Growth principles, and which may be used individually and tailored to the needs of each parish and municipality.
  • Encourage regional coordination on CRS activities: Jurisdictions already participating in the CRS can maximize their credits by collaborating with other CRS communities and pursuing CRS activities at a regional scale, for example through a CRS “Users Group."

    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.

  • Build public-private-nonprofit-community partnerships: Local governments can also turn to partners like universities or nongovernmental entities to increase their capacity to provide research and other resources to support local development and planning efforts, as well as to increase capacity for participation in the CRS program. For example, in Region Seven, the Center for Hazards Assessment, Response & Technology at The University of New Orleans (UNO-CHART), facilitates two of the state’s four Users Groups: the Capital Region Area Floodplain Task Force (CRAFT), and the Flood Loss Outreach Awareness Task Force (FLOAT). UNO-CHART collects and shares research on the latest updates from the National Flood Insurance Program, as well as information from technical experts and practitioners. UNO-CHART also serves as a liaison with Louisiana’s ISO (Insurance Services Office), the entity that verifies community projects for CRS accreditation. UNO-CHART offers the support of using a nongovernmental facilitator to supplement local government resources and capacity, while further enhancing and disseminating the recognized benefits of participation in CRS Users Groups. 

    Similarly, the development of the Scotlandville Community Strategic Plan was spearheaded by Southern University, which assembled a diverse team of stakeholders under the Scotlandville Strategic Plan Committee. The committee was able to harness its strengths in community engagement and its preexisting relationships with members of the Scotlandville community to draw out the voices of residents and other stakeholders who might not have otherwise been heard.

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.


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