Find Resources: Ordinance Resources for North Carolina

The State of North Carolina authorizes local governments to adopt regulations designed to promote the public health, safety and general welfare of residents. The resources below provide draft ordinance text and guidance for communities to take advantage of this authorization in the context of climate resilience.


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Water Supply Watershed Protection Model Ordinance

Template Ordinance
Author: NC Department of Environmental Quality
Last Revision: 2023

This template ordinance provides draft language to protect a jurisdiction’s water supply through subdivision standards, construction procedures, permissible uses within watershed areas, cluster development, vegetated setbacks and more. As droughts and heat waves become more frequent and intense, communities can use this ordinance to protect the quantity and quality of water sources. 

North Carolina General Statutes (GS) 160D-926 and GS 143-214.5 specifically authorize local governments to enact and enforce water supply watershed management regulations. This template ordinance provides guidance for local governments on how to enact this authority. 

Who has used this model ordinance?
Chatham County’s Watershed Protection Ordinance (PDF) (last updated: 2016) establishes strong buffer requirements for streams, springs, seeps and wetlands.


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Model Flood Damage Prevention Ordinance – Coastal and Non-Coastal

Template Ordinance
Author: NC Emergency Management
Release date: 2020 and 2021

*Note: The North Carolina Floodplain Mapping Program uses this website for storage and dissemination of various documents. Select the "NFIP" for document type and then scroll down to find the current "Model Ordinance – Coastal (2020)" or "Model Ordinance – Non-Coastal (2021)".

The North Carolina Floodplain Mapping Program provides a template ordinance for regulation of development in Special Flood Hazard Areas within coastally influenced and riverine influenced jurisdictions. The purpose of these flood damage prevention ordinances is to minimize public and private losses from hazards within flood-prone areas. The language in each ordinance includes provisions designed to:

  • Restrict or prohibit the use of land that is dangerous because of flooding or erosion hazards
  • Require that facilities vulnerable to flooding be protected against water inundation at the time of initial construction
  • Control changes to natural floodplains, stream channels and natural protective barriers
  • Control filling, grading, dredging and all other development that may increase erosion or flood damage
  • Prevent or regulate the construction of flood barriers that will unnaturally divert flood water or that may increase flood hazards to other lands

Who has used this model ordinance?
All local governments participating in the National Flood Insurance Program are required to adopt the minimal standards contained in the template ordinance.

Erosion and Landslides

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Chapel Hill’s Resource Conservation District (See section 3.6.3)

Local Ordinance Example

Adopted November 10, 2003

Chapel Hill’s zoning overlay area requires wide stream buffers. The overlay also identifies the district as a transfer development rights area, whereby landowners can voluntarily sell their development rights to developers willing to develop at higher densities. Wide stream buffers, especially those planted with vegetation, help prevent stream bank erosion and slow down water as it moves from the land to the waterway.

Learn more about Chapel Hill's Resource Conservation District.

Mountain Ridge and Steep Slope Protection Strategies (PDF)

Ordinance Guidebook
Author: Land of Sky Regional Council
Release date: 2008

This report includes recommendations for the development of steep slope protection ordinances, as well as educational initiatives, incentives and other strategies. The document addresses:

  • Public safety, including landslides and emergency response
  • Public health, including water supply and wastewater treatment
  • Water quality and quantity effects due to accelerated soil erosion and increased stormwater runoff
  • The impact of soil erosion and increased stormwater runoff on fish and other aquatic organisms
  • The loss off forestland, natural areas and wildlife habitat
  • The role of land conservation
  • The positive and negative economic impacts of development and protection programs

As development increases in the mountainous part of our state, local governments can use strategies in this document to encourage or require safer and more responsible development on steep slopes. See “Buncombe County updates zoning ordinance to manage landslide risks”.

Soil Erosion and Sedimentation Control Model Local Ordinance

Template Ordinance
Author: NC Department of Environmental Quality
Last Revision: 2021

This model ordinance helps jurisdictions regulate activities that change the natural cover or topography of land. Example activities include residential, industrial, education, institutional and commercial development, as well as highway and road construction. Intense rain events, which are becoming more frequent, can increase erosion at project locations and lead to greater amounts of sediment washing into rivers, lakes and streams. The model ordinance aims to manage erosion on project sites, especially where erosion can lead to water pollution and cause other damage to lakes and waterways.

The NC Sedimentation Control Commission may delegate authority to implement the Sedimentation Pollution Control Act of 1973 (SPCA) to cities and counties that adopt a qualifying erosion and sediment control ordinance in compliance with North Carolina state requirements (this model ordinance qualifies). With this authority, local government staff perform plan reviews and enforce compliance with the SPCA within their jurisdiction.

*Note: In addition to hosting the model ordinance, the webpage linked above also includes resources on planning for and starting a local program, local program responsibilities and procedures for local program delegation.

Who has used the ordinance?
There are several North Carolina jurisdictions that used the model ordinance and have the authority to implement the Sedimentation Pollution Contract Act locally. See a list and map of these locations on the Local Erosion and Sediment Control Programs website.

Land Conservation

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Conservation Subdivision Ordinance and Handbook (PDF)

Template Ordinance and Guidebook
Author: NC State University’s Forestry and Environmental Outreach Program and the NC Forest Service
Release date: 2011

Conservation subdivisions are a type of development in which a large portion of contiguous open space is preserved for common use. Clustering development allows for land to be conserved for agriculture or for dwellings to be constructed away from sensitive areas like floodplains, wetlands and land with habitat for at-risk species. Some communities opt to involve a land trust to help manage the conserved land. Subdivision regulations are controlled by individual counties or municipalities and vary in the amount of open space required and the approval process.

A conservation subdivision (also called “cluster subdivisions,” “flexible development” or an “open space subdivision”) is a design strategy that attempts to preserve undivided, buildable tracts of land as communal open space for residents. In a conservation subdivision, ideally 50% to 70% of the buildable land is set aside as open space by grouping homes on the developed portions of the land. Benefits of conservation subdivisions include reduced stormwater runoff, development costs and the amount of road paving. The design also helps protect natural resources such as farmland, woodlands and streams.

Source: Low Impact Development: A Guide for North Carolina (2009)

This handbook includes a model conservation subdivision ordinance (page 18) and several case studies on North Carolina counties that have adopted and implemented a conservation subdivision ordinance. The document describes the approach’s benefits, perceived barriers and how to overcome those barriers.

The document describes the approach’s benefits, perceived barriers and how to overcome those barriers.

Who has completed conservation subdivisions? 

  • Currituck County has an ordinance and has constructed at least one conservation subdivision. The County’s ordinance requires conservation subdivisions to be at least 10 acres in area and shall cover at least 50% of the total acreage of the development (see Chapter 6, Section 4 of the Unified Development Ordinance).
  • Orange County has constructed a conservation subdivision. The County’s ordinance requires at least 33% of the total land area in the development to be permanently protected as common open space through deed restrictions or a conservation easement (see Section 7.12: Flexible Subdivisions (PDF)).

See page 5 of the handbook for a map of North Carolina counties that have successfully completed a conservation subdivision.

Moore County Unified Development Ordinance Section on Native Plans (PDF)

Local Ordinance Example

Last Amended April 16, 2024

Moore County’s UDO outlines recommended native plants and prohibited non-native invasive plants. Native plants often have longer root systems, which help to absorb more water onsite than a non-native species. Native plants also provide food and habitat for native species, which may be challenged by climatic changes.

Model Natural Resources Conservation Ordinance

Template Ordinance and Guidebook

Authors: NC Wildlife Resources Commission, Duke University Nicholas School of the Environment, Town of Navassa, Cape Fear Council of Governments
Release date: 2015

This model ordinance provides example language to establish a conservation district. Conservation districts protect land from future development. For example, communities can preserve wetlands that help manage flood water, preserve areas that help protect water quality or conserve green space to offer cooling benefits to nearby residents. This overlay district can also conserve the most sensitive natural resource areas and the rarest types of upland wildlife habitats. The language included in the model ordinance aims to decrease habitat fragmentation. The ordinance:

  • Contains the option to include a density bonus offered in exchange for conserving large blocks of natural areas and habitats
  • Provides accurate definitions of the priority habitats in North Carolina

A density bonus allows more development units than otherwise allowed by zoning requirements. For example, a density bonus might permit a developer to build an extra floor in a downtown building if certain conditions are met.

Source: North Carolina Model Natural Resources Conservation Ordinance (2015)

The ordinance, hosted by the NC Wildlife Resource Commission’s Green Grown Toolbox, comes with a package of resources that includes an ordinance fact sheet and specific guidance for the Coastal Plain and the Piedmont and Sandhills.

Context: This model ordinance is legal in North Carolina.

Who has used this model ordinance?
As of December 2023, no communities had used this model ordinance. Let us know if you use it.

Orange County - Chapel Hill – Carrboro Rural Buffer (PDF)

Local Ordinance Example

Adopted April 5, 2011

This part of the Orange County Unified Development Ordinance establishes a “rural buffer” surrounding Chapel Hill and Carrboro. The buffer defines an urban services boundary and growth limits to protect undeveloped areas.