In 2014, the City of Norfolk, Virginia retained Clarion Associates, in association with several sub-consultants, to rewrite its 25 year old zoning ordinance to support Norfolk as a more resilient city, both environmentally and economically. Norfolk harbors some of the nation’s most important shipbuilding and naval assets, but it also has the highest rate of measured sea level rise of any east coast city in the United States. Norfolk’s response to this challenge has been bold and innovative, initially through plaNorfolk2030, and Vision 2100, a 100-year vision for living in a rising water environment, and most recently through the new zoning ordinance project, Build a Better Norfolk.
After a substantial amount of stakeholder, review board, and elected official input to identify key themes and options for regulatory tools to address resiliency issues, Clarion completed the code diagnostic, The Zoning Ordinance Assessment, in 2014. Following the code diagnostic, Clarion
assisted Norfolk staff in the preparation of a new zoning ordinance, which was adopted in January 2018. It incorporates cutting-edge approaches to address the long-term redevelopment and resiliency issues in the community. The ordinance was retooled, and different zone district and development standards were prepared for five different contexts, or character districts in the city. A key resiliency tool developed is the “resilience quotient,” a points-based system that most all development must now comply, that requires developers to choose from a menu of development practices from three categories that strengthen the long-term resiliency of a project: risk reduction, stormwater management, and energy resilience. Examples of the types of mitigation measures in the points system range from pervious parking areas to green roofs. Norfolk’s new zoning ordinance can serve as a model for many communities throughout the nation facing a rising water environment, as well as other challenges to long-term economic and physical resilience.