Dynamic Coastal Shoreland Zoning: Adapting Fastland Zoning for Naturally Shifting Coastal Shores

Zoning Practice — March 2020

By Richard Norton


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Human attempts to arrest or slow the natural shifting of coastal shorelines often focus on structural solutions that tend to adversely affect the existing natural environment. These solutions, undertaken at great expense, are ultimately doomed to break apart under relentless assault from high energy waves. Zoning has an important role to play in addressing the challenges posed by shifting coastal shores. To be effective and fair, zoning must be adapted to incorporate our current knowledge of shoreline dynamics and to respond to contemporary challenges from climate change.

This issue of Zoning Practice makes the case for modifying traditional zoning regulations to account for the natural landward shift of coastal shorelands, discusses likely legal challenges, and identifies issues for consideration in implementation and for further study.


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Date Published
March 1, 2020
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American Planning Association

About the Author

Richard Norton
Richard K. Norton is a professor with the Urban and Regional Planning Program and the Program in the Environment at the University of Michigan. He teaches and conducts research in the areas of planning law, sustainable development, land use and environmental planning, and coastal area management. Most recently he has focused on the challenges of managing shorelands along the Laurentian Great Lakes. Norton contributes actively to public service primarily through the Michigan Association of Planning (MAP) by serving on its planning law committee. In that role he has taken the lead in preparing draft legislation for the Michigan Legislature to reform the state's planning and zoning enabling laws, including reforms adopted by the Legislature in 2006 and 2008. He has also written friend-of-the-court appellate briefs to the Michigan Court of Appeals, the Michigan Supreme Court, and the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals on behalf of the American Planning Association and MAP. Prior to joining UM, Norton earned his Ph.D. in city and regional planning and his J.D. at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, along with master's degrees in public policy studies and environmental management from Duke University. Prior to completing his graduate studies, Norton practiced as an environmental policy analyst and planner in Washington, D.C., and San Francisco, CA.