Greening Incentives and Ordinances


Greening Incentives and Ordinances means structuring incentives, zoning and development ordinances to conserve priority habitats and remove regulatory barriers to better conservation.

Natural resourced-based development ordinances can help your community implement science-based standards for development in the following areas:

  • Development application requirements
  • Protection of Natural Heritage sites
  • Protection of important wildlife habitats
  • Conservation developments
  • Stream, wetland, and floodplain protection
  • Protection of trees and native vegetation
  • Steep slope protection
  • Wildfire hazard and smoke management
  • Community resilience to climate change impacts
For ordinances that can minimize impacts to or conserve wildlife habitat we recommend that you use the language in the NC Model Natural Resources Conservation Ordinance on the next tab. This model ordinance provides accurate definitions of the priority habitats in NC, is based on the Conservation Data, can minimize habitat fragmentation, and is legal in NC.

The Conservation Subdivision Handbook from NC State University and the NC Urban and Community Forestry Program provides an excellent background on existing Conservation Subdivision ordinances in NC. It does include a general model ordinance. We recommend that you also use the NC Model Natural Resources Conservation Ordinance to ensure priority habitat is defined and development design does not fragment wildlife habitat.

The North Carolina Model Natural Resources Conservation Ordinance and Incentives Guide


The N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission, Duke University Nicholas Institute, Town of Navassa, and the Cape Fear Council of Governments teamed up to provide model ordinances for comprehensive natural resource and habitat conservation in North Carolina communities. The model ordinances act as an overlay district meant to conserve only the most sensitive natural resource areas and the most rare types of upland wildlife habitats. The Town of Pittsboro, North Carolina reviewed the model ordinance through a stakeholder group called the Conservation Ordinance Review Committee. Their recommendations were integrated into Pittsboro's draft Unified Development Ordinance.


The Cape Fear Council of Governments created a guide to the model conservation ordinances and produced a model incentive-based conservation ordinance.  This model incentive conservation ordinance provides model language for a conservation district within which a density bonus, allowing more development units than allowed by zoning, is an optional design in exchange for conserving large blocks of natural areas and habitats. Click on the links below to download the model ordinances and guide.


  • Model ordinance guide & incentive-based model ordinance: Click your region to download the NC Model Natural Resources Conservation Ordinance and Incentives Guide for the Piedmont & Sandhills and the Coastal Plain. The regional incentive-based guide also acts as a guide for the model ordinance for required conservation design (link below).





Incentives are important for creating development patterns and practices that maintain wildlife habitat and natural resources. A common incentive used by local governments in NC and across the US is the development density bonus.

Using this approach, developers can build slightly more units that in a conventional design in exchange for conserving a large area of continuous natural open space.



Natural resource-based zoning:

  • Manages growth patterns by using development units per acre instead of minimum lot size to encourage development clustering.
  • Bases the location of zoning districts on an analyses of the Conservation Data and maps explained in Section 2.
  • Maintains healthy streams and wetlands couple with development patterns and standards that conserve and connect upland and wetland habitats.
  • Encourages quality, high-density development in towns and cities, near existing urban services and public transportation, away from sensitive areas.
  • Maintains a rural landscape around and between permanently conserved lands.


  • Moore County, NC list Planned Use Development (PUD) and major residential development (major subdivisions) in their UDO (Unified Development Ordinance) Table of Uses. Major residential development is not permitted in the Rural Agricultural District and PUDs are Consditional in certain rural districts. 
  • Articles 614 of the Randolph County, NC, Unified Development Ordinance Cluster Subdivision Overlay District: provides incentives, such as density bonuses and planning assistance to developers have led 50 percent of developers to choose cluster developments. Fifty percent conservation in contiguous open space is required.  Section 815: Birkhead Wilderness Small Area Plan in the UDO requires “Natural Heritage Subdivision Overlay Districts” that do the following:  addresses conservation of Natural Heritage Areas within the Birkhead Wilderness Small Area Plan, requires Natural Heritage Subdivision Overlay Districts used for any residential development to have a density of one unit per six acres, and requires forest management plans.
  • Joint Orange County - Chapel Hill - Carrboro Rural Buffer —These three jurisdictions have coordinated land use decisions in an established “rural buffer” surrounding Chapel Hill and Carrboro that defines the urban services boundary and growth limits.
  • Town of Chapel Hill, NC Resource Conservation District - Chapel Hill requires wide stream buffers within this overlay district and identifies this as a transfer development rights area, whereby voluntary conservation land owners sell their development rights to developers willing to purchase them and develop at higher densities in the city.
  • Hillsborough County, FL uses maps of significant wildlife habitat to determine some zoning district residential densities. Hillsborough County also offers an example of zoning by units per acre instead of minimum lot sizes.
  • Model Rural Cluster Development Ordinance from the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission.
  • A similar program to the GGT, the Hudson River Estuary Program (NY), has a guide dedicated to conservation zoning.
  • A Massachusetts conservation development ordinance that was supported by landowners, which can be used to conserve up to 80 percent of a tract, became a zoning bylaw in 2021. Click here to read about this Natural Resources Protect Zoning bylaw.

Habitat Conservation

Tampa, Florida’s Upland Habitat Protection Ordinance —Designed to protect important plant communities and wildlife habitat in Tampa, the ordinance establishes an upland habitat overlay district.  Approved upland habitat plans are required before development can occur within the district.

Article 7-1700 of Boulder County, CO Wildlife Impact Reports —Boulder County’s Land Use Code  requires development proposals to include a wildlife impact report whenever the project is located within critical wildlife habitats, significant natural areas, or wildlife corridors shown on conservation maps in the county’s comprehensive plan. 

Orange County, NC Natural Heritage Conservation Requirements —Orange County’s Code of Ordinances (Chapter 46, Article IV) requires development projects to identify strategies to protect Natural Heritage sites.

Chatham County, NC Watershed Protection Ordinance—Chatham County’s ordinance requires field delineations and strong buffer requirements for all streams, springs, seeps and wetlands prior to development plan approval.

Park City, UT Sensitive Area Overlay Zone —This policy establishes a series of overlay zones for protection of different sensitive natural areas, including steep slopes and ridgelines, important wildlife habitats, wetlands, and other important open spaces. 

Carroll County, MD Forest Conservation Ordinance —This ordinance requires forest protection plans to accompany development applications, and requires reforestation activities to accompany any type of land development. 

Native Plants

Moore County NC UDO Chapter 7, Sec. 7.11 H. - J. outlines recommended native plants and prohibited non-native invasive plants. 

Brevard County, Florida’s Land Clearing Performance Standards, Sec. 62-4335, is a particularly exemplary model that requires removal of nonnative, invasive plants and
requires vegetation control to curb proliferation.



The NC Wildlife Commission We have GGT recommendations for solar farms and for planting low-growing native plants to benefit pollinators and farmers. You can integrate these nto your solar ordinance or the model solar ordinance below.

NC Solar Template Ordinance: This ordinance was developed by the NC Solar Center and the NC Sustainable Energy Association.  It encourages large roof-top solar projects by reducing regulatory barriers for these, while also providing model standards for land-based projects.  A diverse group of experts provided input and review of this model including the FAA. 

The Low Impact Development: A Guidebook for North Carolina, developed by NCSU Cooperative Extension, provides guidance on how to reduce barriers and provide incentives within ordinances to encourage low impact development.

In general, we recommend 'Smart Growth' practices that allow a Green Growth approach because these methods reduce spread-out development patterns that are causing wildlife habitat fragmentation and loss.

Hazard Mitigation

Streams, waterways, and wetlands:

Flooding is reduced in proportion to the amount of forest in a watershed. Having forests along streams also cleans our water for free, increases home values, and offers recreation opportunities.

Steep Slopes: 


  • Jefferson County, CO Wildfire Hazard Overlay District —This ordinance limits land uses within the district and requires hazard mitigation strategies around any dwellings and/or the submission of a wildfire mitigation site plans for developments located within the district. 


Community Resilience to Climate Change