Riparian Buffer ordinances

Summary of Model Riparian Buffer Ordinance for Municipalities
By Cahill Associates for Clean Water Fund/Delaware Riverkeeper Network/Green Valleys Association

Riparian Buffer Zone (RBZ) Definition:

Uses Permitted in the RBZ:

Download Protecting Your Water Resources - prepared by Clean Water Fund, Delaware Riverkeeper Network and Green Valleys Association

Uses Prohibited in the RBZ:


What is a “taking”?

The term “taking” stems from the United States Constitution. The Takings Clause of Article V of the United States Constitution states that “nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.” The Pennsylvania Constitution contains a similar provision.

These constitutional provisions mean that, when the government takes your property for public use, it must compensate you fairly for that loss.

Some overly-restrictive land use regulations can constitute a taking. For example, where a regulation authorizes a “physical invasion” of private property, it is a taking. Short of physical invasion, a regulation constitutes a taking only if it goes “too far,” such as when the regulation denies all economic use of the land, or when it or unjustly forces some people alone to bear public burdens that should be borne by the public as a whole.

Does restricting development in buffers along streams constitute a “taking”?

No. It would be exceedingly rare for reasonable limits on land use such as restricting development in riparian buffer areas along streams to constitute a “taking” under the United States or Pennsylvania Constitution. Courts have consistently upheld such regulations in the face of takings challenges. Takings concerns are nonexistent where the buffer regulation remains rationally related to legitimate police powers, draws upon existing science regarding the benefits of riparian buffers, allows for reasonable non-intrusive uses within buffer areas, and grandfathers existing structures.

Buffers 100 is a well-crafted proposal that does not pose any takings concerns.

A rule requiring developers to maintain forested buffers along streams within property being developed clearly serves the legitimate governmental interest of promoting health, safety and welfare. Ensuring that certain land uses do not destroy the important health, safety and environmental functions of forested riparian areas fits squarely within government's police powers.

Buffers 100 is a proposal grounded in sound science. The benefits of forested buffers—flood protection, pollution removal, increased property values, infrastructure cost savings, erosion control—are numerous and well-documented. So are the benefits of widths proposed in Buffers 100 —pollution removal is maximized when forested buffer widths are 100 feet or greater.

The proposal also allows reasonable uses of land to continue. Although invasive activities such as construction are prohibited within the buffer, disturbance of soil and vegetation to conduct minimally disruptive activities is still permitted. Moreover, developers are free to develop other portions of their properties outside of the buffer area. Finally, the rule does not apply to existing development, thus protecting any homes and structures already built in buffer areas.

Allowing development in buffers—the hidden taking.

Allowing development to proceed in buffers actually takes from all of us. Clean drinking water, healthy streams for fishing and swimming, protection from stormwater damage and flooding, and strong property values and local economies are all fair game when buffers are not protected.


A Healthy Buffer

A healthy buffer is filled with native trees, shrubs, and ground covering plants and is wide enough - 100 ft wide - to filter pollution, hold and absorb flood waters and create healthy habitat.

Writing Riparian Buffer Ordinances

We thank The Chesapeake Bay Foundation and their gracious offer that allow us to post their "Protecting Your Water Resources - A Glimpse of a Model Municipal Ordinance"

And a big thank you also to the Delaware Riverkeepers Network who has allowed us to link to their Protecting Streams in Pennsylvania: A Resource for Municipal Officials which is a great starter guide for individuals to understand what to expect from officials who have the responsibility to be stewards of PA's natural resources.

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