From Policy to Reality: Updated Model Ordinances for Sustainable Development

Model OrdinanceIconFirst developed by the Minnesota Environmental Quality Board in 2000, most of these model ordinances were updated and several new models were added by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency in 2008. Beginning in 2015 additional models have been added by consultants to GreenStep and by trusted sources.

  • Model ordinances are organized under the 5 GreenStep best practice categories. GreenStep best practice pages recommend specific model ordinances and reference this set.
  • Note: These are only models—good, proven ideas for meeting sustainability goals. A city planner plays an important role, tailoring each model into a tool appropriate for a city's unique circumstances.
  • Please direct questions, comments and suggestions on these model ordinances to the GreenStep Cities Coordinator.



Sustainable Development Code 

This is a huge and continually evolving curation of code examples from around the US that fall under several hundred topics. Codes and explanatory text are developed through a rigorous editorial and interdisciplinary research process led by Drake University Law School in Iowa, in collaboration with city practitioners from across the country. Organized into 7 chapters (e.g., Mobility + Transportation) and 36 sub-chapters (e.g., Public Transit) -- topical pages (e.g., Transit-Oriented Development), which have associated codes and explanatory text, are found in a 'good, better, best' reference grid further parsed by 'remove code barriers,' 'create incentives,' and 'fill regulatory gaps.'


An evolving model transect-based planning and zoning document based on environmental analysis. It addresses all scales of planning, from the region to the community to the block and building level. The template is intended for local calibration to your town or neighborhood. As a form-based code, the SmartCode keeps settlements compact and rural lands open, literally reforming the sprawling patterns of separated-use zoning.

Reshaping the City: Zoning for a More Equitable, Resilient, and Sustainable Future

The Urban Land Institute (ULI) shares promising insights and examples of zoning updates from across the United States that have been crafted to promote healthy mobility, support increased housing affordability, build more resilient places, and accelerate climate action—among a host of other goals. 

Enabling Better Places: A Users' Guide to Zoning Reform

The Congress for the New Urbanism produced this very readable guide in 2018 for communities planning to make incremental changes to their codes, to align their key zoning districts/regulations with their goals for placemaking, incremental development, livability, and economic success.

Sustainable Design and Green Building Toolkit for Local Governments

Updated in 2013, this resource from the U.S. EPA is useful to cities in identifying and removing barriers to sustainable design and green building within their permitting processes. This toolkit addresses the codes/ordinances that would affect the design, construction, renovation, and operation and maintenance of a building and its immediate site. There are two sections to the toolkit: the first section includes an assessment tool (a simple questionnaire/checklist) and a resource guide. The second section is a guide to developing an action plan for implementing changes within a community's permitting processes.


City Policies/Ordinances that Drive Down Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Database of Climate Ordinances developed by the Great Plains Institute and the American Planning Association's Sustainable Communities Division and Environment, Natural Resources and Energy Division, to identify and help develop tools for planners working on climate change in their local communities. 

Gold Leaf Climate Actions, developed in 2022 by GreenStep and an advisory committee to identify 44 high-impact, high- priority local climate actions, many of which require policy and ordinances changes. Model ordinances for many of the 32 policy actions are on the right-hand side of this page and under the GreenStep best practice action for each policy option.

Buildings & Lighting

Energy Efficiency Ordinance (BPAs 3.1, 3.3)  The energy efficiency ordinance provides examples of how to incorporate energy efficiency into development regulation and zoning, including setting incentives, setting energy efficiency standards for community participation in private sector development, and using energy efficiency certification programs in development regulation.

Renters Right to Know Ordinance (BPA 2.3)  Some local utilities send customers (including residential renters and owners) statements listing their energy use/costs in comparison to last month, last year and in comparison to similar building types. To help a would-be rental customer pick an energy-efficient apartment, work done in Bemidji during 2016 by Fresh Energy resulted in a sample ordinance through which a city would require landlords to disclose the energy usage for residential rental properties.

Land Use

Agriculture and Forest Protection District (BPAs 10.2, 10.3, 10.6, 16.5, 27.1 The Agriculture and Forest Protection District provides language to protect the economic value of agricultural and forestry resources as a primary and preferred land use. The district is geared toward county and township areas, although the language can be used for cities that want to permanently protect these economic natural resources rather than simply maintaining an urban reserve.

Model Community Conservation Subdivision District (BPAs 5.5, 10.1, 10.5)  The conservation subdivision language applies the concepts of conservation design to a zoning district or subdivision ordinance. The model discusses how conservation design is a broad category of development ranging from very urban to very rural. This model provides an example of how conservation design principles meet conservation goals in one type of community; an exurban or agricultural area that is under development pressure.

Downtown Mixed-Use District (BPAs 8.3, 8.5 The DMU district provides basic language for creating a deliberately mixed use and dense development pattern geared to urban downtown areas.

Planned Unit Development Ordinance (BPAs 7.1, 7.2, 8.3, 8.5, 10.1, 14.2 16.2, 18.2 The PUD ordinance is modeled after a typical suburban PUD ordinance and identifies how to incorporate sustainable development concepts such as protection of natural assets, energy efficiency and renewable energy, green buildings, state-of-the-art stormwater management and selectively increasing density.

Highway Commercial District (BPAs 9.3, 9.4 The Highway Commercial District demonstrates one example of preferred use standards and design concepts for highway commercial development.

Village Mixed Use District  (BPAs 8.3, 8.5 The Village Mixed Use district provides basic language for creating a deliberately mixed use and higher density development pattern geared to very small towns, villages, hamlets, and townships that might not have centralized water or wastewater.

Natural Resources Performance Standards (BPAs 5.5, 10.1, 10.3, 10.5, 10.6, 11.1, 11.2, 16.5) The Natural Resource Performance standards provide examples of designing development around priority natural features, treating natural systems with the same attention as transportation or other built infrastructure. The standards show how local governments can integrate development with specific types of natural features or natural systems that are local priorities.

Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance (BPAs 6.2, 6.3, 10.2, 11.1, 11.2 The APF Ordinance provides language for ensuring that development at the edge of a city or urban area is appropriately staged, consistent with the city's infrastructure capacity and expansion plans.

Model Code for Accessory Dwelling Units (BPA 7.2)  Jurisdictions across the country are responding to a groundswell of public sentiment in favor of this small, discreet, affordable, traditional, and environmentally friendly form of housing, sometimes called alley houses or granny flats. See model language from a national non-profit and a link to a model the AARP and the American Planning Association prepared in 2000.

Model Landscape Ordinance for a Municipal Zoning Code (See under Environmental Management)


Design Standards for Pedestrian-Oriented Districts and Corridors (BPAs 9.1, 9.4, 11.2, 14.2, 14.3)  The pedestrian-oriented design standards identifies methods of incorporating pedestrian-friendly design into development regulations, and provides examples of pedestrian-friendly design.

Travel Demand Management Performance Standard (BPAs 9.4, 14.2, 14.3 The Travel Demand Management ordinance provides language for requiring investment in and expansion of infrastructure supporting non-single-occupancy-vehicle travel options during the development process. The ordinance is geared to dense areas or larger cities.

Transit-Oriented Development (BPAs 9.4, 14.2, 14.3, 14.4 The TOD ordinance provides language for ensuring that development near transit infrastructure has an appropriate mix of land uses, sufficiently high density to support the public investment in transit infrastructure, and transit-friendly design of buildings and accessory uses.

Best Practices in Electric Vehicle Ordinances (BPAs, 3.3, 6.59.4, 14.1)  EV-friendly city zoning ordinances encourage the development of infrastructure necessary to address market barriers to widespread EV adoption by drivers. Developed by Great Plains Institute in 2019, best practice ordinance examples are summarized under eight categories: charging stations as permitted land uses; make-ready standards; supply equipment standards; parking space design & location; parking capacity & minimums; parking use standards; signage & safety; definition of terms.

Model Snow and Ice Management Policy (BPAs 11.2, 17.6 Language developed in 2016 by snow and ice management professionals from cities and counties in diverse areas of Minnesota, watershed districts, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, the Minnesota Nursery and Landscape Association, and other stakeholders. The policy balances public interests including public safety, equipment and material cost, and environmental impact. See also a shorter model Snowplowing Policy from the League of MN Cities.

Environmental Management

Chloride Reduction Model Ordinance (BPAs 17.6) Model ordinance language covering four regulatory areas, developed in 2019 by the MPCA and the Nine Mile Creek Watershed District, TetraTech, and several local cities and watershed organizations: (1) Occupational Licensure for Winter Maintenance Professionals; (2) Deicer Bulk Storage Facility Regulations; (3) Land Disturbance Activities; (4) Parking Lot, Sidewalk and Private Road Sweeping Requirements.  

Outdoor Wood Boilers: Model Zoning and Nuisance Ordinances/Codes (BPA 23.2The MPCA prepared these in 2016 and they include legally defensible performance standards, Minnesota Fire Code language, and permanent or interim bans affecting nuisance, zoning, construction, and operation of wood boilers.

Natural Resources Performance Standards (See under Land Use)

Stormwater and Erosion and Sediment Control Ordinance (BPA 17.3 The stormwater and erosion control ordinance provides detailed language for integrating a stormwater ordinance with the 2009 Minnesota Construction General permit for stormwater management and erosion control. The ordinance links local standards to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) Urban Stormwater Manual.

Soil Loss Ordinance (BPA 16.5)  This model ordinance is intended primarily for use in situations where a county or other land use authority chooses to adopt a soil loss ordinance under the statutory planning and zoning authorities granted to local governments under Minnesota Statutes, §394.25 (counties and townships) and §462.357 (cities). Both statutes refer to “agriculture” and “soil conservation” as authorized purposes for establishing zoning ordinances. Some counties regulate erosion under other authorities, such as nuisance ordinances, or pursue resolution of complaints through negotiation.

Shoreland Management Ordinance (BPA 19.4)  A shoreland ordinance is an important land use regulation that helps to protect surface water quality, near shore habitat, and shoreland aesthetics valued by Minnesotans. A shoreland ordinance contains a variety of provisions that guide land development and activity in shorelands that protect these shoreland resources. The DNR uses the shoreland model ordinance for evaluating whether new ordinances and amendments comply with Minnesota Rules 6120.2500 - 6120.3900.

Floodplain Ordinances (BPA 19.8 Most local governments in Minnesota have some form of a floodplain ordinance. Local government units must adopt ordinances in order to be in full compliance with the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) – which is required for flood insurance and certain types of disaster assistance. The DNR is required to review and approve all new and amended floodplain ordinances prior to their adoption to verify that minimum state and federal standards are met. 

Landscaping and Maintenance of Vegetation (BPAs 2.5, 10.6, 16.5, 17.5, 18.5, 27.1 The landscaping ordinance is modeled on a typical nuisance ordinance, but distinguishes native plantings and other alternatives to turf grass, and defines edible landscaping as a substitute for lawns. The ordinance requires a plan, setbacks, and maintenance of native landscaping to address the nuisance concerns that typically accompany alternatives to turf.

Solid Waste Ordinances (BPA 22.3 Developed by foth.com of Lake Elmo, MN and GreenStep, this package of model documents was prepared in 2015 that has: (1) "good," "better" and "best" license templates for legal language that would be adopted by ordinance; (2) three RFP Scope of Services Frameworks for use in soliciting solid waste services, and (3) a template for a solid waste services license a city would sign with a service provider.

Model Landscape Ordinance for a Municipal Zoning Code (BPAs 3.1, 3.3, 3.5, 7.5, 10.4, 10.6, 16.5 Language here, developed by ORANGE Environmental and reviewed by state organizations, regulates the review process for new developments. Based upon Burnsville and Minneapolis code, topics covered include soil and tree health, biodiversity, water infiltration, irrigation, sun and wind orientation, parking lots, and industrial buffer yards.

Resilient Economic & Community Development

Solar Energy Standards (BPA 26.7 Ordinance guidance and language is covered in this "Grow Solar Local Government Toolkit: Planning, Zoning, and Permitting."

Local Food Networks (BPAs 10.2, 10.3, 10.6, 16.5, 27.1 The Local Foods ordinance focuses on land use standards that protect food production businesses in agricultural areas under development pressure. The ordinance is geared to suburban and ex-urban communities where residential development and small commercial agriculture occupy the same area.

Model Wind Energy (BPA 26.1 Prepared in 2017 by the Minnesota Department of Commerce and the Great Plains Institute, the Minnesota Local Government Wind Toolkit provides a model ordinance.