Hartford’s new zoning code an environmental win!

It may come as a surprise to learn that the brand-new zoning code of our capital city, Hartford, is now among the most sustainable in the country. But it’s true! 

The new code just adopted by the city’s Planning & Zoning Commission makes Hartford a model for other cities trying to prioritize environmental sustainability, carbon footprint reduction, and resilience.

How is it a model? The code’s greatest environmental impact may well be that it uses a “form-based” approach to zoning that requires more compact development, which de-emphasizes parking, than the prior code. In addition to the form-based rules, Hartford’s new zoning code specifically targets the areas of energy, air, and water. As chair of the Commission (and CFE boardmember), I thought it might be interesting to highlight each of these three areas:



Connecticut has the highest electric costs in the continental United States but has tremendous, untapped potential for renewable energy.  Hartford’s zoning code:

  • Provides height bonuses for buildings downtown or in the transit oriented development zone if renewable energy meets 25% of building need or cogeneration is used
  • Allows building-mounted solar/wind everywhere, freestanding, large-scale wind along the highway corridor, and solar parking canopies in most lots
  • Requires electric vehicle charging stations for lots of 35+ cars to create citywide infrastructure for EVs
  • Provides parking credits for renewable-powered and energy efficient parking facilities
  • Prohibits new trees from shading solar collectors.


Everyone worries about clean air, but Hartford in particular has some of the highest asthma rates in the country, in part caused by transportation sector emissions from two major highways running through our dense historic neighborhoods.  Hartford’s zoning code:

Reduce transportation-related emissions by:

  • Establishing transit-oriented development districts which provides incentives for dense, car-independent development near the new CTfastrak stations
  • Instituting parking maximums and reduce/eliminate parking minimums
  • Requiring short- and long-term bicycle parking for nearly every building
  • Requiring new and substantially rehabilitated streets to be redesigned with Complete Streets principles, which de-emphasize the primacy of the car and encourage walking and biking

Enhance the urban canopy, which purifies air and reduces energy costs, by:

  • Specifying canopy coverage requirements for all uses
  • Articulating tree installation, maintenance, construction, and removal standards
  • Providing density bonuses for green roofs in downtown/TOD buildings
  • Allowing community gardens and parks everywhere, and urban farms nearly everywhere.


Hartford suffers from threats to water quality from contaminated stormwater runoff and incompatible land uses along waterways.  Our zoning code:

  • Institutes 25 to 50 foot “development-free” buffers near waterways
  • Prioritizes low-impact development and green infrastructure
  • Limits impervious coverage (and thus stormwater runoff) on every lot
  • Creates a Connecticut River Overlay zone that replaces industrial zoning with mixed-use development
  • Bans artificial turf made of synthetic infill (one of the first zoning codes to do so).

We in Hartford would love to see other communities join us in integrating sustainability at the local level.  There’s more to be found here!

Posted by Sara Bronin, CFE boardmember and chair of the Hartford Zoning Commission. 

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