Baltimore City is poised to adopt a new zoning code that is among the most ‘green building friendly’ land use ordinances in the country.

A green building friendly zoning ordinance is significant when so many local codes including land use ordinances across the country stand in the way of sustainability efforts.

The Baltimore City Zoning Code was last comprehensively updated in 1971. At that time, the focus was on auto-oriented development, separation of uses, and preserving the City’s heavy manufacturing base. In 2008, the City Department of Planning began the current process to rewrite the Zoning Code. Last month, the City Planning Commission approved a draft Code focusing on sustainability recommending adoption by the City Council. 

While sustainability in incorporated throughout the new Zoning Code, there are several concepts that result in a green building friendly enactment: 

·  Solar power (roof and ground mounted) is allowed throughout the City and only a building permit is needed if other general site requirements are met including it must be installed to rise no more than 42 inches from the roof surface.

·  Wind power is allowed throughout the City and again, only a building permit is needed if the maximum height of any ground-mounted wind energy system is 65 feet or 20 feet above the tree line, whichever is greater or 10 feet above roof of primary structure.

·  Community-based alternative energy systems are a permitted and conditional use in all zoning districts.

·  Bicycle parking is now required for apartment buildings, schools, and commercial establishments over 10,000 sf.

·  One vehicle parking space can be eliminated for every twelve bicycle spaces.

·  Reducing the amount of land required for parking by allowing shared and alternating parking.

·  Parking space dimensions are reduced by 10%.

·  Parking lot size can be reduced by land banking, allowing up to 25% of the area required for parking to be held as open space in anticipation of future parking needs.

·  New Transit-Oriented Development Districts are intended to promote new, well-integrated residential and commercial development around transit stations.

·  Rain barrels, compost piles, greenhouses, hoop houses, and recycling collection stations are considered permitted encroachments in the appropriate yard areas.

·  Green roofs are encouraged in Commercial and Industrial zoning districts.

·  Urban Agriculture is now a permitted and conditional use in most zoning districts, and Farmers’ Markets have been added as a permitted temporary uses.

·  Community-Managed Open Space is now a permitted use in most zoning districts.

·  The keeping of livestock and animals is permitted.

It is worthy of note that Baltimore has a mandatory Green building law enacted in 2007 such that all newly constructed, extensively modified non-residential, and specific multi-family residential buildings that have or will have at least 10,000 square feet of gross floor area must achieve a Silver rating in the appropriate LEED rating system or satisfy the Baltimore City Green Building Standard (a LEED-like local enactment).

Zoning ordinances that look favorably upon green building are significant when today so many local codes including land use ordinances across the country stand in the way of sustainability efforts.