Model Municipal Ordinances

The Model Municipal Ordinance project aims to create best practices for municipal ordinances—covering green buildings, wind, and solar resources—which avoid the drafting problems and legal pitfalls that often plague other ordinances.

Current municipal ordinances vary widely in content and coverage and many municipalities cannot devote sufficient resources to form fully developed green building, wind and solar ordinances. Yet, municipalities have the ability to control many aspects of  their local land siting. Columbia’s model ordinances offer a framework that can enable local governments to implement and enforce the effective and efficient use of renewable energy resources.  These model ordinances were derived from the best aspects of existing municipal ordinances.  They are designed with New York municipalities in mind, but are general enough that with minor revisions, they can be readily adopted by municipalities in other states.

The Sabin Center has drafted model ordinances for green buildings, commercial wind, and residential solar.

Model Green Building Ordinance

The model municipal green building ordinance presented below is the product of an empirical analysis of common practices in existing municipal green building regulation and research on possible legal impediments. Its provisions are designed to achieve effective yet feasible improvements in building practices and are drawn, in large measure, from existing ordinances. A draft version of the ordinance and a solicitation for comments were released on June 1, 2010. We received comments from a wide variety of individuals and institutions with substantial experience and knowledge in the areas of green buildings, municipal law, and statutory construction. This completed version of the ordinance includes many changes that reflect the comments received.

The model ordinance regulates new construction and major modifications of municipal buildings, commercial buildings, and residential buildings by mandating that these buildings be constructed to a specific green building standard. Under these mandates, new buildings and major modifications will more efficiently use resources and be built with more sustainable materials and practices than conventional buildings. Unlike other model ordinances that detail technical specifications, this ordinance presents a framework for the implementation of existing technical standards and a streamlined procedure for their compliance and enforcement. The model ordinance accommodates the rapidly developing field of substantive green building standards by allowing for the adoption of new standards within the ordinance’s framework.

The commentary on the ordinance clarifies areas of potential ambiguity and discusses the benefits and drawbacks of optional add-ons. Legal issues, including preemption, nondelegation, and antitrust, are discussed in a separate document available below.

Download the model ordinance without commentary (PDF)

Download the model ordinance with commentary (PDF)

Download the legal analysis to accompany the model ordinance (PDF)

SEQRA forms to accompany model ordinance: SEQRA form 1 (PDF); SEQRA form 2 (PDF)

See summary of revisions (PDF) for the most recent version of the ordinance.

See redline comparison (PDF) of previous version to current version.

Related Publications and Press Coverage

The Town of New Castle, New York adopted a comprehensive green building law that is based on the Sabin Center’s model ordinance.  The New Castle Town Board voted unanimously to adopt the law on December 13, 2011.  Download the adopted law.

Faculty Director Michael Gerrard has also written about the ordinance in the Municipal Lawyer Newsletter and The New York Environmental Lawyer.

Model Municipality Wind Siting Ordinance

The model ordinance presents a framework for the adoption, implementation, and enforcement of standards to promote the effective and efficient use of wind energy resources.  In crafting the original version, we began by analyzing existing wind siting ordinances from various New York municipalities, as well as those from other municipalities in other states, identifying their common features, and seeing what types of requirements have been widely adopted.

The model ordinance regulates all new wind energy conversion systems, as well as those which begin operating, or are modified after, the effective date of the ordinance.  The ordinance includes provisions concerning permits, approvals, operation, and oversight of wind energy conversion systems, and allows for flexibility in adoption within each municipality by including a number of optional add-ons.  Both the first and second drafts are annotated with a legal commentary that clarifies areas of potential ambiguity and discusses the benefits and drawbacks of the optional add-ons.

The municipal wind siting ordinance accompanies the Center’s model green building ordinance, and model municipal solar siting ordinance, available here.

Download the Final Model Municipal Wind Siting Ordinance (PDF)

Download the First Draft Model Ordinance with Commentary (PDF)

Planning and Zoning For Wind Energy

In January 2012, the American Planning Association’s Planning Advisory Service (PAS) released a handbook, Planning and Zoning for Wind Energy. This handbook includes the Center’s Second Version of its Model Municipal Wind Siting Ordinance.  The link to the handbook is listed below.

Working Paper on Developing Municipal Wind Energy Ordinances in New York State

A wide variety of municipal wind energy ordinances exist in New York State. This working paper developed by SCCCL discusses the choices that a municipality in New York must make in drafting a wind energy ordinance, with reference to how existing codified wind energy ordinances and model municipal wind energy ordinances have dealt with these choices.

Columbia Law School’s Sabin Center for Climate Change Law has prepared a first draft of a model small-scale solar-siting ordinance.  The model ordinance offers a framework that can enable municipalities to implement and enforce the effective and efficient use of solar energy resources. The ordinance would govern all new solar energy systems of up to 10 kilowatts, and includes provisions regarding permits, appeals, safety, and zoning for future solar access.

A majority of the model ordinance is derived from existing solar ordinances enacted in New York municipalities.  While designed with New York municipalities in mind, the model ordinance can be easily modified for adoption in other states.

The ordinance lays out siting requirements for solar-photovoltaic systems that are mounted on the rooftops of buildings, as well as those which are ground-mounted.  It also addresses the siting of building-integrated solar-photovoltaic panels as well as solar-thermal systems.  The ordinance places emphasis on safety requirements for proper solar installation while stripping away unnecessarily restrictive provisions that would limit the development of valuable solar resources.   It also contains numerous optional provisions that would help guide municipalities in zoning land so as to maximize solar access in the future.   The draft is annotated with a legal commentary that clarifies areas of potential ambiguity and discusses the benefits and drawbacks of the optional add-ons.

We welcome comments on this draft from lawyers, planners, architects, engineers, municipal officials, and others on how to improve it. Comments should be sent to Michael Gerrard at [email protected]. The municipal small-scale solar siting ordinance accompanies the Sabin Center’s model green building ordinance and model commercial wind siting ordinance.

Download the Model Ordinance with Commentary (PDF)

Download the Model Ordinance as a word document