Make a Plan for Green Infrastructure

Whether your town is starting from scratch or looking to move to the next level with green infrastructure, smart planning is a must. Assess needs and make strategic improvements to planning documents, ordinances, and processes. See how two mayors are charting the path forward.


Identify your community’s most pressing stormwater issues. The most pressing issues vary from community to community. While some communities experience recurring flooding, others have water supply or water quality issues. (Of course, many have all three!) Communities must consider solutions that are cost-effective and that also improve the quality of life for their residents. The questions below are provided to begin a conversation to identify your community’s most pressing issues.

  • Does my community experience street flooding?
  • Basement flooding?
  • Combined sewer overflows?
  • Sanitary sewer overflows?
  • Environmental challenges associated with drainage?
  • Stream and lake water quality problems after heavy rains?
  • Stream and lake water quantity impacts?
  • Aging infrastructure?
  • Recreation and open space needs?
  • Street aesthetic improvements?
  • Harmful algal blooms?


Conduct a review and assessment of your community Master Plan policies and zoning regulations. Consider using the annotated EPA Water Quality Scorecard (this version of the scorecard is adapted so as not to conflict with any aspect of New Jersey’s unique regulatory system) and/or the Center for Watershed Protection’s Code and Ordinance Worksheet and accompanying Scoring Spreadsheet to evaluate local development regulations and identify revisions that allow (or require) site developers to minimize impervious cover, conserve natural areas and use runoff reduction practices to manage stormwater runoff.


Update municipal plans to incorporate sustainable, low impact development policies and principles. These crucial updates provide the rationale and framework to encourage or require the implementation of green infrastructure.

Update the Master Plan Goals and Objectives – Essential
These model statements can be incorporated into the section of your Master Plan that articulates your community’s overarching goals and objectives. This will provide the basis for Master Plan elements and regulations that encourage or require the implementation of green infrastructure.

Update the Land Use Element – Essential
The Land Use Element is a required element of the Master Plan in accordance with New Jersey Municipal Land Use Law. It is the part of the Master Plan that focuses on the future vision of land uses within the community. Incorporating the topic of resiliency and green infrastructure in this part of the Master Plan will emphasize the role green infrastructure should play in the community. Oceanport Borough’s Master Plan includes resiliency as a central theme in its future land use decisions. The section of Oceanport’s Master Plan provided here emphasizes the importance of green infrastructure.

Update the Stormwater Management Plan – Essential
All municipalities must adopt a Municipal Stormwater Management Plan (MSWMP). This plan is an important vehicle by which to stress the importance and promote the adoption, adaptation, and integration of Green Infrastructure into the municipality’s land development (zoning) and stormwater management ordinances. Municipalities may modify NJDEP’s sample MSWMP to promote GI and to integrate such practices as prominent elements of a municipality’s Land Development and Stormwater Management Ordinances. This MSWMP guidance document is intended to assist municipalities in the preparation of their own individual MSWMP to include GI.

Update Redevelopment Plans – Preferred (for municipalities that have Redevelopment Plans)
Most redevelopment plans address overarching goals as well as the design of streets and other elements. Goals and relevant components of these plans should include specific encouragement for the integration of green infrastructure, in such a way that there is flexibility within the frameworks of the overall vision to accommodate it without triggering variances or waivers. Consider this suggested language.

Create a Green Building and Environmental Sustainability Element, a.k.a. Sustainability Element – Preferred
The Sustainability Element is an element of the Master Plan that seeks to encourage and promote the efficient use of natural resources and the installation and usage of renewable energy systems; consider the impact of buildings on the local, regional and global environment; allow ecosystems to function naturally; conserve and reuse water; treat stormwater on-site; and optimize climatic conditions through site orientation and design. Lawrence Township created a Sustainability Element to guide land use decisions and provide the basis for ordinances addressing sustainability and land use issues.

This section of the Sustainability Element addresses sustainable water resources practices in general and green infrastructure in particular. The Sustainability Element is a good repository for a wide variety of sustainability topics, including green infrastructure. A completed Sustainability Element can earn your municipality points toward Sustainable Jersey Certification.

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Update Municipal Capital Improvement Plans (CIP) – Preferred
For municipalities, the CIP is a plan for municipal capital improvement projects. Green infrastructure should be incorporated into municipal projects, routinely and cost-effectively. The CIP should integrate all recommended green stormwater infrastructure projects into relevant municipal plans, such as the municipal capital investments, operations, budgets, and cost-benefit analyses included in the operations and maintenance program, asset management plan and optimization strategy, hazard mitigation resiliency and response plan, green infrastructure plan, and CSO Long Term Control Plan.

Create a Stormwater Mitigation Plan – Optional
A municipal Stormwater Mitigation Plan is an optional element of a Municipal Stormwater Management Plan, but is required in order for a municipality to grant a variance or exemption to the design and performance standards for stormwater runoff quality and quantity, and groundwater recharge, established under the Stormwater Management rules at N.J.A.C. 7:8-5. Municipalities may offer a number of possible mitigation projects that an applicant may build or contribute funding toward in order to offset the effect of a requested waiver or exemption. At the municipal level, MS4 permits require cities and towns to inventory existing stormwater infrastructure. The inventory process offers a good opportunity to document problem areas, identify mitigation opportunities and implement green infrastructure. NJDEP has Stormwater Mapping and Inventory Assistance Tools to aid a municipality in this exercise. Some towns, like Jackson Township and Chatham Township, have included a mitigation plan within their Municipal Stormwater Management Plan. Other towns, such as Moorestown Township, have separate Mitigation Plans. The Moorestown Stormwater Mitigation Plan provides mitigation projects by watershed but these projects are very general. NJDEP provides a mitigation plan guidance document for the creation of a stormwater mitigation plan.

Update the Conservation Plan Element – Optional
The Conservation Plan Element of the Master Plan focuses on the identification and preservation of natural resources including your local waterways. Byram Township developed a Conservation Element that includes a focus on low-impact development (LID), a land planning and engineering design approach to manage stormwater runoff as part of green infrastructure. LID emphasizes conservation and use of on-site natural features to protect water quality.

Community Forestry Plan and Tree Cover Goal – Optional
A Community Forestry Plan is an important first step in creating a comprehensive tree planting program, which could inform the location and type of trees for green infrastructure projects. NJDEP provides financial assistance for the development of these plans. Sustainable Jersey points are awarded for the certification of a community forestry plan.

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Natural Resource Inventory – Optional
As explained by Sustainable Jersey, the Natural Resource Inventory (NRI), also known as an Environmental Resource Inventory (ERI), serves as an index of natural resources and is a compilation of text and visual information about the natural resource characteristics and environmental features of an area. It provides baseline documentation for measuring and evaluating resource protection issues. NRIs can include a municipal impervious coverage map. Sustainable Jersey points are awarded for completed NRIs.

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Green Infrastructure Plan – Optional
A municipality may want to implement a comprehensive Green Infrastructure Plan as a sub-element to the Master Plan to provide actions and policy direction to institutionalize green infrastructure. The Green Infrastructure Plan guidance document provides several elements for consideration by a municipality that wants to plan comprehensively for the implementation of green infrastructure. The City of Hoboken developed a Green Infrastructure Strategic Plan, which creates a framework for green infrastructure on both a city-wide and district by district basis; identifies the most cost-effective place-based best management practices (BMP) the city can employ to address stormwater management and the anticipated increase in frequency of flooding events; and develops a set of strategies the city can employ to implement the plan. The City of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, adopted a Green Infrastructure Plan to reduce combined sewer system overflows and identify economically viable, long-term strategies for mitigating the negative impact on its water quality of wet-weather overflows. Sustainable Jersey awards points for completing impervious coverage assessments and, separately, for creating short-term and long-term goals for reducing runoff and disconnecting drainage systems. It also requires conceptual project designs.

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Create or Update Your Town’s Complete Streets Policy – Optional
Municipalities can insert language to include Green Streets into an existing Complete Streets policy that influences how green infrastructure can be included when building or rebuilding streets.

The New Jersey Department of Transportation’s Complete & Green Streets for All: Model Complete Streets Policy & Guide can help towns prioritize green streets in road projects. This policy and guide is a one-stop resource for New Jersey municipalities, counties, agencies, organizations, and advocates. It makes the connection between complete streets and health, economic development, equitable transportation expenditures and project selection, and green streets. It also contains sample language for communities to amend existing complete street policies or adopt new ones.


There are a number of ways to improve both your municipal stormwater ordinance and your land use / zoning ordinances to encourage and incentivize the use of green infrastructure. All municipalities are free to adopt ordinance provisions that go above and beyond the State’s minimum requirements. Here are ways to raise the bar:

Stormwater Ordinance Improvements

Every NJ municipality must update its stormwater ordinance to comply with new amendments to the Stormwater Management Rules (NJAC 7:8). NJDEP provides a sample stormwater ordinance. New Jersey Future’s Enhanced Model Stormwater Ordinance, also available as an editable Word document, provides several options for municipalities to strengthen their ordinances to increase green infrastructure and reduce flood risk.

Local stormwater ordinances may go above and beyond the minimum requirements of NJDEP’s new stormwater rules for certain kinds of projects. For example, municipalities may choose to define “major development” with a smaller area of disturbance; apply stormwater requirements to both major and minor development; add green infrastructure requirements in urban redevelopment areas; require onsite stormwater retention; and more. For more guidance on these and other ways to bring increased green infrastructure benefits to your community, explore the menu of options provided in New Jersey Future’s Enhanced Model Stormwater Ordinance (links above).

Note: these kinds of higher standards can be applied only to nonresidential projects that go before the local planning board or zoning board of adjustment. Residential projects are governed by the Residential Site Improvement Standards (RSIS), which reference the current stormwater rule. Thus, residential projects subject to planning board or zoning board review must meet the state’s minimum standards, no more and no less.

Strengthening your ordinance could earn Sustainable Jersey points and can contribute to the Highlands Regional Master Plan. 

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For Highlands towns: here is guidance for maximizing green infrastructure in the context of the Highlands Regional Master Plan

Land Use / Zoning Ordinance Improvements:

Reduce Impervious Cover Be Specific About Landscape Requirements, Including Tree Protection Establish Riparian Buffers and Protect Stream Corridors Promote Compact Development

Maximum Parking Requirements. Establish maximum parking space requirements for non-residential development and require a process by which the developer must include measures to mitigate the increase such as additional open space, pervious pavement and non-structural stormwater management elements if the parking maximum is exceed by 10% or more. Minimum Parking Requirements. Consider revising parking regulations below ITE (Institute of Transportation Engineers) standards based on empirical data from local devleopment and actual demand counts, especially in mixed-use and transit village districts.

Curbing. Make sure your ordinance accommodates curb requirements related to green infrastructure. Sample language: Development that incorporates non-structural stormwater management mechanisms/elements , such as bio-swales, recharge areas, etc, adjacent to streets may be constructed without curbing or with modified curb design, provided that the elimination/modification of curbing is related to the functioning of the non-structural stormwater management mechanisms/elements, subject to the approval of the Municipal Engineer.

Pervious Pavement. Pervious pavements should be permitted and encouraged. Sample ordinance language: Use of alternative pervious pavements are permitted provided that the function, safety and durablity of the pavement is acceptable to the Municipal Engineer. Consider adopting a minimum percentage of parking lots, drives and roads to utilize pervious pavement elements. Parking Layout. Minimize impervious cover through parking layout. Encourage one-way directional, angled parking and/or require the developer to provide several parking layouts demonstrating the parking layout proposed minimizes to the maximum extent possible the amount of impervious coverage. Shared Driveways. Shared driveways are permitted or required for single-family residential developments. On-Street Parking Credit. Parking calculations may include public parking that is within 500 feet of the property. Shared Parking. Shared parking may allow for a reduction of up to 40 percent based upon the compatibility of uses that have different parking demands and are able to share parking lots/ spaces throughout the day. The Applicant shall provide a parking study to justify the number of spaces for shared parking. The Applicant shall provide a shared parking easement that must be approved by the Board to allow the shared parking arrangement between property owners/ tenants. Parking Reduction. If an Applicant would like to reduce the number of parking spaces beyond 20 percent or increase the number of parking spaces beyond the maximum in the table below, the Applicant shall provide a parking study for review.

Be Specific About Landscape Requirements, Including Tree Protection Landscape design should facilitate water conservation through the use of drought-tolerant plants, capture, management and recharge of stormwater, and integration of potable water re-use strategies. The thoughtful integration of non-structural stormwater management elements within landscape design is encouraged. Integration of non-structural stormwater management elements within vegetated buffers is encouraged. Integration of non-structural stormwater management elements, such as bio-swales and recharge mechanisms, within parking lot planting beds, is encouraged. Consider adopting a minimum area of the interior portion of the parking lot to be landscaped. The landscape design should be designed to also serve as green infrastructure, such that it incorporates non-structural stormwater management elements to channel, treat, retain and recharge stormwater. Deep-rooted native vegetation is encouraged to increase the infiltration capacity of soils. Linear parking islands should be provided to increase opportunities for non-structural stormwater management elements and additional tree canopy. Municipalities are encouraged to examine and limit the excessive removal and destruction of trees, which can contribute to stormwater runoff. Here is specific language for tree protection provisions to be incorporated in your municipal Land Use Ordinance.

Establish Riparian Buffers and Protect Stream Corridors

Definition: STREAM CORRIDOR: A stream corridor shall include: A. The stream channel. B. The area within the ontre-hundred-year floodline, if delineated. C. The area extending outward from the stream channel in any direction as measured from either: a) the one-hundred-year floodline; or b) from the top of the stream bank (if the one-hundred-year floodline is not delineated), according to the following classifications: (1) One hundred feet for non-trout waters. (2) One hundred fifty feet for trout maintenance waters. (3) Three hundred feet for Category One waters.  D. Areas abutting the outer boundary of the composite area of the stream corridor delineated pursuant to A through C above that have slopes of 15% or greater.

Regulation: Stream corridors. (1) The purpose of this section is to protect property from flooding; to reduce land development impacts on stream water quality and flows; to maintain quality of streams and improve the currently impaired streams; to protect significant ecological components of stream corridors such as wetlands, floodplains, woodlands, steep slopes, wildlife, plant and riparian habitats within the stream corridors: to complement existing state, regional, county and municipal stream corridor protection and management regulations and initiatives; to protect existing natural drainage features; to protect other’s rights within the same watershed from adverse effects of improper stream corridor development; and to provide recreation and wildlife migration corridors. (2) Stream corridors shall remain in their natural state, with no clearing or cutting of trees and brush (except for removal of dead vegetation and pruning for reasons of public safety), altering of watercourses, regrading or construction. Only the following uses shall be permitted within stream corridors, subject to the aforementioned parameters:

  • (a) Agriculture according to the best management practices of the Natural Resource Conservation Service or the Soil Conservation District, but excluding enclosed structures. (b) Pasture and controlled grazing of animals as part of an agricultural operation in accordance with conservation practices approved by the Natural Resource Conservation Service or the Soil Conservation District. (c) Wildlife sanctuary, woodland preserve, and arboretum, except if subject to damage by flooding. (d) Hunting and fishing reserves, operated for the protection and propagation of wildlife, but excluding enclosed structures. (e) Passive recreational uses. (f) Stream corridor restoration that utilizes plantings of native and indigenous species. (g) Dams, culverts and bridges that have received approval from the appropriate municipal, county and state agencies having such authority. (h) Roads that cross the stream corridor as directly as feasible and have received approval from the appropriate municipal, county and state agencies having such authority.(a) Agriculture according to the best management practices of the Natural Resource Conservation Service or the Soil Conservation District, but excluding enclosed structures.

(3) Any use not specifically permitted in the stream corridor is prohibited. (4) An approved application for development or use on a lot which contains a stream corridor or portion of a stream corridor shall provide a conservation easement for the continued protection of the stream corridor. Conservation easements shall be established by deed or by plat filed with the County Recording Officer in compliance with the Map Filing Law. (5) Appropriate monuments shall be set by the licensed land surveyor. Such markers shall be set at each conservation easement corner not previously marked by a monument. All boundary markers shall be described on the survey provided to show their relation to the property or corner or, if appropriate, to the boundary lines.

Promote Compact Development
Definition- Residential cluster: A contiguous or non-contiguous area to be developed as a single entity according to a plan containing residential housing units which have a common or public open space area as an appurtenance. Residential Cluster Optional Development. Residential cluster optional development, when permitted by the applicable zoning district, shall conform to the following provisions: A. Permitted Uses. Single-family detached, semi-detached, or townhouse dwellings shall be permitted. B. Open Space. Open space, recreation, land or land for conservation purposes shall be a minimum of one acre in area and shall front on a publicly dedicated street or publicly accessible private street. Land intended for agricultural use shall be a minimum of 5 acres. C. Minimum Required Open Space. No residential cluster development shall include less than 40% of the total tract area for common open space. Common open space shall be set aside for conservation, passive recreation and active recreation. Such land shall be optimally related to the overall plan and design of the development and improved to best suit the purpose(s) for which it is intended. For the purposes of this section, land utilized for street rights-of-way shall not be considered common open space. D. Use of Open Space Land. Land to be devoted to public purposes may be offered to and may be accepted by the municipality, a non-profit land trust, or may be owned and maintained by an open space organization. Any lands intended to be offered to the municipality or non-profit land trust for public purposes shall be so declared prior to preliminary approval. All lands not offered to and/or not accepted by the municipality or non-profit land trust shall be owned and maintained by an open space organization pursuant to N.J.S.A. 40:55D-43. E. Public or Community Utility Systems Required. Residential cluster developments shall be required to be connected to public sewer and water or community well and septic. Individual lot septic system and well shall not be permitted.


Incentives for developers to use green infrastructure can be included in the development application and review process as well as in the zoning for the site. Development application and review incentives include:

  • Discounted application fees
  • Discounted or waiver of maintenance bonding for green infrastructure
  • Redevelopment area bonuses: Municipalities may offer a one-time tax credit for development projects that incorporate green infrastructure in a way that benefits the local community.
  • Zoning incentives
    • Allow increased height, density or intensity
    • Exempt green roofs and pervious pavement from impervious-cover regulation

Zoning incentives allow for increased height, density or intensity of the development in exchange for the use of green infrastructure, reduction in impervious surfaces and the increase of green spaces. Many communities include floor area ratio (FAR) regulations, which limit the amount of floor area or density for a building for a specific lot size. There may be opportunities to provide more flexible FAR standards for infill and retrofit developments that incorporate green infrastructure in the site design, thereby reducing the site’s impact on the surrounding community. In addition, a municipality may allow green roofs and pervious pavement to be exempted from impervious-cover regulation. Hoboken provided potential development scenarios using incentive-based zoning techniques on p. 47 of its Green Infrastructure Strategic Plan.


Update the municipal development application process to promote the use of green infrastructure early in the design phase. Green infrastructure should be considered early in the design phase of a development project and ideally should be distributed around a site. Local officials and their professionals may take the opportunity to work with developers and their teams before a site is engineered, to discuss the developer’s plan for the site, have an informal Q&A that can ease the review process, and to ensure that green infrastructure is understood and used. This checklist can be helpful before or during a pre-application meeting between an applicant and pertinent review personnel to discuss the municipality’s green infrastructure and low-impact development goals and requirements in order to optimize the development’s nonstructural stormwater management design.


Plan for green infrastructure in public projects Communities should lead by example. Green infrastructure should be incorporated into public projects including the construction of new roads, roadway upgrades, stormwater management facilities, parks, parking areas, streetscape improvements, etc. — all of which may appear in a Municipal Capital Improvement Plan. Not only do these projects provide opportunities for reducing community-wide stormwater impacts, but they also create educational opportunities for the community, provide examples for developers, and help ensure that municipal professionals and staff are knowledgeable about green infrastructure design, installation and maintenance.

Tree Planting Programs Trees are excellent green infrastructure resources. They absorb a large volume of stormwater, beautify neighborhoods, cool and clean the air, and increase property values. Sustainable Jersey awards points for a Tree Planting Project Report that includes a description of the tree planting program, including a tree species and size list; planting locations or map; and a budget showing the project funding sources and in-kind contributions of materials and volunteer labor, if utilized.

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Efficient Landscape Design With this Sustainable Jersey Certification action, municipalities can earn points for implementing a landscaping project that meets the guidelines outlined in the action for xeriscaping and rainscaping. While a rain garden would fall under the green infrastructure implementation action, other landscaping projects for this action could qualify as green infrastructure.

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Like any infrastructure, green infrastructure requires periodic maintenance to function properly. Appropriate ongoing training for staff and contractors is imperative.