University of Notre Dame

Climate Zoning

April 15, 2024

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Climate Zoning

Christopher Serkin*

As the urgency of the climate crisis becomes increasingly apparent, many local governments are adopting land use regulations aimed at minimizing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.  The emerging approaches call for loosening zoning restrictions to unlock greater density and for strict new green building codes.  This Article argues that both approaches are appropriate in some places but not in others.  Not all density is created equal, and compact multifamily housing at the urban fringe may actually increase GHG emissions.  Moreover, where density is appropriate, deregulation will not necessarily produce it.  And, finally, green building codes will increase housing costs and so will actually increase GHG emissions if they discourage growth in low-carbon places.  Those are appealing in the abstract but are unlikely to be adopted in many places anytime soon.  This Article therefore offers a set of regulatory prescriptions specifically for local governments aimed at producing density in low-carbon places and minimizing emissions in high carbon ones.

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© 2024 Christopher Serkin.  Individuals and nonprofit institutions may reproduce and distribute copies of this Article in any format at or below cost, for educational purposes, so long as each copy identifies the author, provides a citation to the Notre Dame Law Review, and includes this provision in the copyright notice.

*Elisabeth H. & Granville S. Ridley Jr. Chair in Law, Vanderbilt Law School.  Thanks to Sara Bronin, Caroline Cox, Nestor Davidson, John Infranca, Moira O’Neill, John Lovett, Michael Lewyn, John Nolon, J.B. Ruhl, Ganesh Sitaraman, Katrina Wyman and participants at the 2023 Progressive Property Conference.  Thanks to Raghav Gupta and Samantha Shah for research help.