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 for Environmental Policy Solutions, 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
presented in Section 2, in addition to the common considerations.
• Maintains healthy streams and wetlands and encourages development patterns and
standards that conserve upland priority wildlife habitats.
•  Encourages quality, high density, development in towns and cities, near existing
urban services and public transportation and away from sensitive areas.
• Encourages rural and urban cluster development.
• Maintains a rural landscape around and between permanently conserved lands.

Examples include:

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, Colorado 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, North Carolina 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, North Carolina 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, Utah 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, Maryland Forest Conservation Ordinance —This ordinance requires forest protection plans to accompany development applications, and requires reforestation activities to accompany any type of land development. 

Jefferson County, Colorado 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. 

Randolph County, NC Unified Development Ordinance Section 600 outlines a conservation subdivision option. Incentives such as density bonuses and planning assistance to developers, have led 50 percent of developers to choose this option. Click here to download a power point presentation about the conservation-based growth policies and this conservation subdivision ordinance by the county planning department.

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. 

We have GGT recommendations for solar farms and for planting low-growing native plants to benefit pollinators and farmers.

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.

Example ordinances: