Planning & Policy

Evidence-based planning for changing climate

  State Legislation and Provisions

Click on the headings in the table to Read More about it from the Wetlands Watch Adaptation Guide. Find the guide Here. Table contains links to the Virginia Code and relevant language for common tools that localities can use to adapt to recurrent flooding and sea level rise. This information is current as of January 2017; keep in mind that the Virginia Code and case law regarding these tools may have changed.

  • Armoring includes shoreline protection strategies through the use of bulkheads, seawalls, etc. See a storymap to learn more
  • Va. Code §§ 10.1‐1-658; 15.2970

    Amended: 1989; 1997
  • 10.1‐658: "encourages those measures which prevent, mitigate and alleviate the effects of stormwater surges and flooding"; 15.2-970: "[a]ny locality may construct a dam, levee, seawall or other structure or device... to prevent the tidal erosion, flooding or inundation of such locality...."


Natural Armoring

  • Soft Armoring involves the creation or restoration of a natural shoreline system to improve water quality, enhance shoreline habitat, & help maintain coastal processes.
  • V.A. Code §§ 15.2-2223.2;2 Amended: 2011; 28.2-1100; 28.2-104.1; 62.1-229-5

  • 15.2-2223.2: "incorporate the guidance developed by the Virginia Institute of Marine Science"; 28.2-1100: "preferred options for shoreline management. . . consider[ing] the resource condition, priority planning, and forecasting. . . with respect to projected sea-level rise"; 28.2-104.1: "encourages the use of living shorelines"; 62.1-229.5: enables "[l]oans. . . to a local government for the purpose of establishing living shorelines."

Beach Replenishment

  • Beach replenishment involves the creation or restoration of a natural shoreline system to improve water quality, enhance shoreline habitat, & help maintain coastal processes.

  • V.A. Code §§ 10.1-704 ;10.1-709; 15.2-2400; 15.2-2403

    Amended: 1988; 2003; 2000; 2010
  • 10.1-704: "beaches. . . given priority. . . for. . . material. . . suitable for beach nourishment"; 10.1-709: "grants to local governments covering up to one-half of the costs of erosion abatement measures"; 15.2-2400: "[s]ervice districts may be created"; 15.2-2403: service districts for "beach and shoreline management and restoration"

Riparian Buffer Tax Exemption

  • Riparian buffer tax exemptions encourage land owners not to develop elligible wetland areas that absorb storm surge and provide other important ecosystem services.

  • V.A. Code §§ 58.1-3666; 58.1-339.10

    Amended: 2016; 2016
  • 58.1-3666: "living shoreline project[s]. . . shall qualify for full exemption from. . . taxation by local governments"; 58.1-339.10: "any individual who owns land abutting a waterway on which timber is harvested, and who forbears harvesting timber on certain portions of the land near the waterway, shall be allowed a [tax] credit"


Building Code

  • Building codes govern standards for construction, maintenance, and usage for development within a locality.
  • Va. Code §§ 15.2-2280; 36-98; 62.1-44.15:33

    Amended: 1997; 2006; 2016
  • 15.2-2280: Localities can determine "[t]he use of land, buildings, structures and other premises," and "[t]he size, height, area, bulk, location, erection, construction, reconstruction, alteration, repair, maintenance, razing, or removal of structures... [and t]he areas and dimensions of land, water, and air space to be occupied by buildings [and] structures..."; 36-98: statewide building code does not supersede "proffered conditions accepted as a part of a rezoning application, conditions imposed upon the grant of special exceptions, special or conditional use permits or variances, conditions imposed upon a clustering of single-family homes and preservation of open space development... or land use requirements in... local flood plain regulations..."; 62.1-44.15:33: "authorized to adopt more stringent stormwater management [and soil erosion control] ordinances than those necessary to ensure compliance with the Board's minimum regulations...."

Design Standards

  • Design guidelines can promote protection & accommodation to sea level rise, including requirements for flood-proof building materials, low-impact development, natural infrastructure & open space preservation.
  • Va. Code §§ 15.2-2280

    Amended: 1997
  • 15.2-2280: Localities can determine "[t]he use of land, buildings, structures and other premises," and "[t]he size, height, area, bulk, location, erection, construction, reconstruction, alteration, repair, maintenance, razing, or removal of structures... [and t]he areas and dimensions of land, water, and air space to be occupied by buildings [and] structures..."

Freeboard Requirements

  • Freeboard is the elevation of a building’s lowest floor to a height above the minimum base flood elevation (BFE) during the initial construction process.
  • Va. Code §§ 15.2-2280

    Amended: 1997
  • 15.2-2280: Localities can determine "[t]he... location, erection, construction, reconstruction, alteration, repair, maintenance, razing, or removal of structures..."

Structure Elevation

  • Structure elevation, which includes physically raising an existing structure, is one of the most common adaptation methods used by localities.

  • Va. Code §§ 15.2-2280

    Amended: 1997
  • 15.2-2280: Localities can determine "[t]he size, height, area, bulk, location, erection, construction, reconstruction, alteration, repair, maintenance, razing, or removal of structures... [and t]he areas and dimensions of land, water, and air space to be occupied by buildings [and] structures..."

  • Localities may designate areas as “sending” and “receiving” zones. Property owners in sending zones can sell development credits to property owners in receiving zones. Tax credits allow a locality to offer incentives for transferring development rights. See a storymap to learn more
  • Va. Code §§ 15.2-2316.2; 15.2-2223.1; 15.2-2316.2(C)(3)

    Amended: 2014; 2012; 2014
  • 15.2-2316.2: “Any locality…may…establish…standards for the transfer of development rights..."; 15.2-2223.1 "[a] portion of one or more urban development areas may be designated as a receiving area for any transfer of development rights program established by the locality"; 15.2-2316.2(C)(3): "[t]he owner of such development rights... make[s an] application to the locality for a real estate tax abatement for a period up to 25 years...."
  • Land use value assessment taxes real estate based on its usage, instead of its fair market value. As a result, agricultural lands & open spaces, that omit development potential, can be subject to lower taxes, providing an opportunity for Va. localities to preserve long-term public benefits.
  • Va. Code § 58.1-3231

    Amended: 2001
  • 58.1-3231: Localities "which [have] adopted a land-use plan may adopt an ordinance to provide for the use value assessment and taxation... of real estate...."

  • Land acquisition programs can reduce a locality’s vulnerability to flooding by acquiring and removing structures on parcels repeatedly flooded & converting parcels to open space. See a storymap to learn more
  • Va. Code §§ 15.2-1800; 15.2-2279

    Amended: 2007; 1997
  • 15.2-1800: "A locality may acquire... any interests in, any real property... for any public use"; 15.2-2279: "Any locality may by ordinance regulate the building of houses in the locality including the adoption of... minimum setbacks."

  • Land acquisition programs can reduce a locality’s vulnerability to flooding by acquiring and removing structures on parcels repeatedly flooded & converting parcels to open space. See a storymap to learn more
  • Va. Code §§ 10.1-1701; 15.2-6600-6625; 15.2-1901.1

    Amended: 1988; 2002; 2003
  • 10.1-1701: "[A]ny public body may (i) acquire ... any interests or rights... in real property that will provide a means for the preservation or provision of open-space land and (ii) designate any real property in which it has an interest... to be retained and used for the preservation and provision of open-space land"; 15.2-6600-6625: certain localities may "by resolution declare that there is a need for a public access authority" that can "[a]cquire, establish, construct, enlarge, improve, maintain, equip, operate and regulate public access sites"; 15.2-1901.1: "[A]ny locality may acquire by condemnation title to... land, buildings and structures... [or] any easement thereover...."

  • Localities preserve open space by purchasing future development rights on ecologically valuable tracts of land like floodplains, farmland, forest, & open space. See a storymap to learn more
  • Va. Code §§ 3.2-201; 15.2-5158

    Amended: 2013; 2015
  • 3.2-201: "The Office of Farmland Preservation shall have the.;. dut[y]... [t]o develop... (i) model policies and practices that may be used as a guide to establish local purchase of development rights programs..."; 15.2-5158: "Each community development authority... may... [p]urchase development rights that will be dedicated as easements for conservation, open space or other purposes pursuant to the Open-Space Land Act."

  • A voluntary, but legally-binding, agreement between a property owner & a landholding entity, in which development rights of a property are limited in perpetuity to preserve its ecological values.
  • Va. Code §§ 15.2-5158; 15.2-1800; 10.1-1700; 10.1-1009

    Amended: 2015; 2007; 2011; 1988
  • 15.2-5158: Localities can "[p]urchase development rights that will be dedicated as easements for conservation, open space or other purposes pursuant to the Open-Space Land Act"; 15.2-1800: "A locality may acquire... any interests in, any real property... for any public use"; 10.1-1700: "'Open-space easement' means a nonpossessory interest of a public body in real property... the purposes of which include retaining or protecting natural or open-space values of real property, assuring its availability for agricultural, forestal, recreational, or open-space use, protecting natural resources, maintaining or enhancing air or water quality, or preserving the historical, architectural or archaeological aspects of real property." 10.1-1009: "'Conservation easement'" means a nonpossessory interest... the purposes of which include retaining or protecting natural or open-space values of real property, assuring its availability for agricultural, forestal, recreational, or open-space use, protecting natural resources, maintaining or enhancing air or water quality, or preserving the historical, architectural or archaeological aspects of real property."

  • Localities must periodically author documents outlining general physical development and preservation goals.
  • Va. Code §§ 15.2-2223; 15.2-2223.3

    Amended: 2014; 2015
  • 15.2-2223: Comprehensive plans should foresee "future requirements of [each locality’s] territory and inhabitants"; 15.2-2223.3: "Any locality included in... Hampton Roads... shall incorporate... strategies to combat projected relative sea-level rise and recurrent flooding."

  • Green Infrastructure Plans (GIPs) can guide urban reforestation, development and growth strategies, conservation area or open space acquisition, zoning, & parks and recreation programs while also providing regulatory compliance strategies for floodplain management, hazard mitigation, MS4 permits & Chesapeake Bay TMDLs.
  • Va. Code §§ 15.2-2223.2; 28.2-1100; 28.2-104.1

    Amended: 2011; 2011; 2014
  • 15.2-2223.2: "[A]ny locality in Tidewater Virginia... shall incorporate the guidance developed by the Virginia Institute of Marine Science pursuant to subdivision 9 of § 28.2-1100 into the next scheduled review of its comprehensive plan"; 28.2-1100; "[R]esource management guidance for local governments ... shall identify preferred options for shoreline management and tak[e] into consideration the resource condition, priority planning, and forecasting of the condition of the Commonwealth's shoreline with respect to projected sea-level rise"; 28.2-104.1: DCR & VIMS "shall develop integrated guidance for the management of tidal shoreline systems to provide a technical basis for the coordination of permit decisions required by any regulatory entity exercising authority over a shoreline management project."

  • Long range transportation plans, part of the comprehesive planning process, are required to receive federal transportation funds. See a storymap to learn more
  • Va. Code §§ 15.2-2230.1; 15.2-2223

    Amended: 2012; 2014
  • 15.2-2230.1: "In addition to reviewing the comprehensive plan, the planning commission may make a study of the public facilities, including existing facilities, which would be needed if the comprehensive plan is fully implemented.... For purposes of the study, public facilities may include... streets and highways"; 15.2-2223: "As part of the comprehensive plan, each locality shall develop a transportation plan that designates a system of transportation infrastructure needs and recommendations...."

  • A Hazard Mitigation Plan allows a locality to identify policies & actions to reduce the risks from hazards.
  • Va. Code §§ 15.2-2223.3; 15.2-2223; 44-146.18

    Amended: 2014; 2015; 2015
  • 15.2-2223: Comprehensive plans should foresee "future requirements of [each locality’s] territory and inhabitants"; 15.2-2223.3: For localities in HRPDC, "[w]here federal regulations as effective July 1, 2015 require a local hazard mitigation plan for participation in the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) National Flood Insurance Program, such a plan may also be incorporated into the comprehensive plan"; 44-146.18: "The Department of Emergency Management shall... [i]n coordination with political subdivisions and state agencies, ensure that the Commonwealth has up-to-date assessments and preparedness plans to prevent, respond to and recover from all disasters...."

  • The Capital improvement program or plan (CIP) is a growth management tool to summarize and guide funding and timing of any planned public physical improvements (infrastructure & public facilities).
  • Va. Code §§ 15.2-2223; 15.2-2239

    Amended: 2014; 2011
  • 15.2-2223: "The comprehensive plan,... may include... [a] capital improvements program"; 15.2-2239: "A local planning commission may... prepare and revise annually a capital improvement program based on the comprehensive plan of the locality...."

  • The Chesapeake Bay Preservation Act requires the use of effective land management & planning that minimizes disturbance/development of environmentally sensitive areas, known as Chesapeake Bay Preservation Areas (CBPAs).
  • Va Code §§ 62.1-44.15:67

    Amended: 2013
  • 62.1-44: Localities "of Tidewater Virginia [shall] incorporate general water quality protection measures into their comprehensive plans, zoning ordinances, and subdivision ordinances...."

  • Localities without Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4) permits can still use their zoning ordinances, policies, & land-use approval process to encourage environmental or better site design & planning techniques for new development & redevelopment that reduces impervious surfaces & preserves natural open space, thereby reducing stormwater. See a storymap to learn more
  • Va Code §§ 15.2-5102; 15.2-2114; 62.1-44.15:33; 62.1-44.15:34

    Amended: 2011; 2016; 2016; 2016
  • 15.2-5102: Localities can, toegether or separately, "create a ... stormwater control authority"; 15.2-2114 "Any locality, by ordinance, may establish a utility or enact a system of service charges to support a local stormwater management program..."; 62.1-44.15:33: Localities "are authorized to adopt more stringent stormwater management ordinances than those necessary to ensure compliance with the Board's minimum regulations"; 62.1-44.15:34: A non-MS4 locality "shall provide a general notice to applicants of the state permit coverage requirement and report all approvals... to begin land disturbance of one acre or greater...."

  • All tidewater localities and localities with Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4) permits must regulate and administer stormwater management (runoff volume and water quality) for new development and redevelopment according to the Virginia Stormwater Management Program (VSMP). See a storymap to learn more
  • Va Code §§ 15.2-51-2114; 62.1-44.15:33;

    Amended: 2016; 2016
  • 15.2-2114: "Any locality, by ordinance, may establish a utility or enact a system of service charges to support a local stormwater management program..."; 62.1-44.15:33: MS4 localities "are authorized to adopt more stringent stormwater management ordinances than those necessary to ensure compliance with the Board's minimum regulations."

  • Localities can designate at risk areas as floodplains and regulate their use.
  • Va. Code §§ 15.2-2280; 36-98; 10.1-602

    Amended: 1997; 2006; 2015
  • 15.2-2280: "Any locality may... classify the territory under its jurisdiction... into districts of such number, shape and size as it may deem best... and in each district it may regulate, restrict, permit, prohibit, and determine... [t]he use of land, buildings, structures and other premises for agricultural, business, industrial, residential, flood plain and other specific uses"; 36-98: statewide building code does not supersede "proffered conditions accepted as a part of a rezoning application, conditions imposed upon the grant of special exceptions, special or conditional use permits or variances, conditions imposed upon a clustering of single-family homes and preservation of open space development... or land use requirements in... local flood plain regulations..."; 10.1-602: DCR shall "[s]erve as the coordinator of all flood protection programs and activities in the Commonwealth, including the coordination of... local governments."

  • Zoning regulates the use of specific plots of land.
  • Va. Code § 15.2-2283

    Amended: 2008
  • 15.2-2283: "[Zoning] ordinances shall be designed to give reasonable consideration... (i) to provide for... safety from fire, flood, impounding structure failure... and other dangers... (iv) to facilitate the provision of... disaster evacuation... transportation, water, sewerage, flood protection... (v) to protect against destruction of or encroachment upon historic areas; (vi) to protect against one or more of the following: ... danger and congestion in travel and transportation, or loss of life, health, or property from fire, flood, impounding structure failure, panic or other dangers... (viii) to provide for the preservation of agricultural and forestal lands and other lands of significance for the protection of the natural environment...."

Down Zoning

  • "'Downzoning' means a zoning action by a locality that results in a reduction in a formerly permitted land use intensity or density."
  • Va. Code § 15.2-2286

    Amended: 2014
  • 15.2-2286: "Whenever the public necessity, convenience, general welfare, or good zoning practice requires, the governing body may by ordinance amend, supplement, or change the... classifications of property."

Service Districts

  • Service districts are areas where a locality exacts additional taxes in order to provide additional services.
  • Va. Code §§ 15.2-2403; 62.1-148

    Amended: 1997; 2006
  • 15.2-2403: grants governing bodies various powers with respect to service districts; 62.1-148.1: Localities are "authorized to adopt such resolutions and/or ordinances as may be required... for the fulfillment of the required items of local cooperation as expressed in acts of Congress and/or congressional documents, as conditions precedent to the accomplishment of river and harbor and flood control projects of the United States."

Voluntary Agreements

  • Voluntary agreements allow a locality to offer incentives for downzoning.
  • Va. Code § 15.2-2286(11)

    Amended: 2014
  • 15.2-2286(11): “A zoning ordinance may include…provisions allowing the locality to enter into a voluntary agreement with a landowner that would result in the downzoning of [his]…property in exchange for a tax credit.”

Tidal Wetlands Act

  • The Tidal Wetlands Act, among other things, includes an ordinance for the regulation of wetlands that can be adopted by localities.
  • 28.2-1302

    Amended: 2014
  • 28.2-1302: Allows localities to adopt specific wetlands zoning ordinance.

Primary Dune Law

  • Primary dune law exists to protect and preserve dunes and beaches in Virginia.
  • 28.2-1403

    Amended: 2014
  • 28.2-1403: Allows localities to adopt specific primary sand dune ordinance.

Setbacks

  • Setbacks establish a minimum distance development must be from a flood hazard boundary.
  • Va. Code § 15.2-2279

    Amended: 1997
  • 15.2-2279: “[R]egulate the building of houses in the locality, including…minimum setbacks;” the Chesapeake Bay Preservation Act: requires development adjacent to the Bay to include a 100-foot buffer from the edge of wetlands, shores, or streams.