Saying 'No' to Development in Climate Risk Areas

Only a few places have managed to stem the tide of development in areas at risk to the effects (like wildfire and flooding) of climate change. Virginia Beach is an early test bed for what it takes to tell developers "no."

2 minute read

November 21, 2019, 7:00 AM PST

By James Brasuell @CasualBrasuell


King Neptune Statue

Who's in charge here? | Jay Yuan / Shutterstock

Christopher Flavelle and John Schwartz report from Virginia Beach, where the city recently became a leader in climate-aware development restrictions—i.e., saying no to developers proposing buildings on land at risk of flooding from sea-level rise and extreme weather.

The city last year became one of a small but growing number of communities willing to say no to developers — despite their political and economic clout — when it rejected a proposal to build a few dozen homes on this soggy parcel of 50 acres, arguing that those homes would be unsafe. The developers sued, accusing officials of making their project a scapegoat as voters clamored for action after disastrous flooding.

This past May, a judge ruled that Virginia Beach was within its rights to stop the development. The city’s experience could become a harbinger for others nationwide.

According to the article, the confrontation between Virginia Beach and this developer is emblematic of many future, similar conflicts, the outcomes of which will determine the vulnerability of Americans to climate change in the future. The recent track record of this conflict has favored developers and introduced risk to many communities:

In many coastal states, homes are going up at the fastest rate in the most flood-prone areas. The number of new houses in what experts call the wildland-urban interface, where the wildfire threat tends to be greatest, increased 41 percent nationwide between 1990 and 2010.

A recent report from the Pew Charitable Trusts provides additional background for the this feature-length story. The "Mitigation Matters: Policy Solutions to Reduce Local Flood Risk" report is available online.

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