Beginning with Habitat


Land Use Ordinance Tools

1. Introduction | 2. Wildlife Habitat Overlay District | 3. Transfer of Development Rights | 4. Open Space Impact Fees | 5. Conservation Subdivision Ordinance | 6. Land Use Ordinance Performance Standards

Short-eared OwlWildlife Habitat Overlay District


This example of a Wildlife Habitat Overlay District was designed to provide a tool to reduce habitat fragmentation resulting from residential development and division of land. It is intended to work in concert with a town's underlying subdivision ordinance and to provide additional guidance for open space approaches to subdivision layout.

Although the goal of this tool is to reduce habitat fragmentation and uses unfragmented blocks of forest and connecting overland corridors as its focus, the overlay district approach can readily be adapted to apply to other resource types. In fact, an overlay district, or zone, can be applied to any well-defined (spatially specific) resource, such as a lake, large field, rare natural community, deer wintering area, etc., that can be accurately delineated and represented on a local zoning map as a distinct area. Overlay districts are intended to work in concert with the town's underlying zoning and subdivision ordinance and to supplement the underlying zones with additional performance standards. Overlay zoning is useful in enabling a municipality to impose additional standards on specific areas without amending the basic zoning ordinance defining uses or allowed densities for the district or districts overlapped with the overlay zone. This approach is useful in protecting landscape elements that cross underlying district lines and can be the most useful tool in protecting long-term habitat contiguity and connectedness.

What This Example Covers

This example addresses the fragmentation of large undeveloped blocks of habitat by offering both "sticks" and "carrots" intended to minimize a developments footprint while 1) not changing the allowed density of the underlying district; 2) not rendering any property "undevelopable"; and 3) leaving design choices to the developer by not specifically requiring an open space or "cluster" approach to development. Each of these three issues (reducing density, prohibiting uses, and mandating development type), although arguably useful tools in some cases, can become contentious "lightening rod" issues that may lead to the defeat of a proposed ordinance no matter how well balanced otherwise. This ordinance was crafted to focus primarily on residential developments that trigger subdivision review, but uses "disturbance" of vegetation as its measure of impact thereby offering a mechanism to address development that does not technically trigger the state subdivision definition (Title 30-A 4401(4)).

This example ordinance specifically exempts traditional agricultural uses, commercial forestry, and allows for a one-time lot split without triggering formal review. These exemptions have been suggested to avoid placing additional regulations on rural land uses that can contribute significantly to a town's rural character and sense of place while typically resulting in limited long-term wildlife habitat impacts. The one-time lot split exemption is intended to address affordability concerns and allow families to offer a lot to a relative without an increase in regulatory burden.

Most subdivision ordinances, if they include requirements for open space set asides, do not include clear guidelines as to what types of land should be set aside and how these open spaces should be configured on the landscape. As a result, the dedicated open space is often in fragmented chunks and has limited conservation value. This ordinance is intended to clearly define up front where open space should be targeted to maintain an ecologically functional landscape while still responding to development demands.

This example ordinance is not to be considered a "cure all" for local habitat conservation concerns. The ordinance is intended to offer one approach that can help to minimize fragmentation impacts in key areas of town. It can help to achieve these benefits with little need for technical expertise beyond what is typically available at a local town planning office and planning board. By utilizing this tool in conjunction with other tools included in the Beginning with Habitat (BwH) Toolbox, such as conservation subdivision ordinances, local wetland protection rules, strengthened shoreland protection standards, and creative land acquisition strategies, towns can establish their local "conservation blueprint" and start to build and conserve a functional ecological infrastructure.

How This Ordinance Works

This example ordinance is intended to provide towns with a tool that can help implement BwH objectives by creating incentives to maintain contiguous blocks of open space during the development process. As an overlay district, it should be used with an existing land use zoning ordinance and established zones. The example does not include all sections necessary for stand-alone adoption. A municipality desiring to incorporate the provisions of this overlay district into an existing comprehensive land use ordinance should review those sections of their local ordinance that address subdivision approval and administrative matters to ensure consistency and to avoid redundancy.

The success of this ordinance depends on its ability to address specific local concerns through a fair and balanced approach. Several sections may not work for your town and can likely be removed or edited as deemed appropriate. Certainly, the disturbance and mitigation threshold numbers specified in this document could all be adjusted to best respond to local priorities for habitat protection.

The attached Wildlife Habitat Overlay District ordinance language was crafted by the Town of Brunswick based on the recommendations of the Brunswick Rural Smart Growth Advisory Committee. The committee's report and additional information can be found by visiting the Town of Brunswick's web-site:

In addition to the example ordinance language with explanatory notes, also included below are responses to frequently asked questions that were prepared by the Town of Brunswick in response to questions generated by town residents as the ordinance was being developed.

Example Tools

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