Minimizing Encroachment and Incompatible Land Use Near Military Installations

Jet fighterJanuary 2013

Land use near military installations is a growing issue for state legislatures and the armed forces. New residential and commercial development along with increasing competition for land, airspace and water access can constrain training, testing and other military base activities. For example, night-time lighting from communities can reduce the effectiveness of night vision training. Another issue of concern is that military activities may lead to undesirable consequences for neighboring communities, such as aircraft over flights, dust, noise or accidents. If military operations must be relocated because of an incompatible development, this could also do harm to the economic vitality of the region.

Encroachment—a term used by the U.S. Department of Defense to refer to incompatible uses of land, air, water and other resources—is “the cumulative impact of urban and rural development that can hamper the military’s ability to carry out its testing and training mission.” Certain types of land use near military installations can interfere with military operations by obstructing air routes and communications by cellular towers, power lines and other similar structures; competing for or interfering with data and communications frequencies; depleting ground or surface water supplies, water treatment capacity and other resources; using extra air emissions in areas that may have emission thresholds; and requesting changes in testing because of residents’ noise concerns. New development can also drive threatened and endangered species onto a military installation, limiting its operations.

Even though military installations are federally owned and operated, state legislatures can help to minimize conflict between bases and communities. An increasing number of state legislatures have recognized the importance of preventing encroachment and incompatible land uses. In addition to sustaining the mission and operations of military installations to prepare troops for combat, active military bases can also help sustain neighboring communities, local economies and critical animal and plant habitats. Several states have passed legislation to protect the missions of military installations and the wellbeing of surrounding communities.

Communication with Installations

One method for states to help mitigate unwanted development conflicts near military installations is to include all involved parties in the planning process. While neighborhood and commercial development planning happens mainly on a local level, the state legislature sets a framework in most states for how local entities carry out land use planning processes.

Many states have promoted compatible development by giving the military the opportunity to participate in local land use planning, which helps local officials understand the effects of incompatible development on quality of life in communities and on military operations. Seventeen states require communication with or notification to military installations about land use changes. This formal contact process can increase communication in order to avoid unintentional conflicts.

Map of States with Statutes Requiring Local Governments to Communicate with Military Installations


Examples of State Policy Approaches

  • In Arizona, the legislature enacted a measure requiring local governments within the vicinity of a military airport to consult with, advise and provide the military airports the opportunity to comment on land use surrounding the installation. (Ariz. Rev. Stat. Ann. §28-8481.)
  • In 2012, the Florida legislature clarified its community planning statute to specify that a commanding officer’s comments must be based on appropriate data and analyses, and that the local government must consider those comments and accompanying data as they relate to the strategic mission of the base, public safety, and the economic vitality associated with the base's operations. Further, the bill created the Florida Defense Reinvestment Grant Program in part to work with defense-dependent communities on strategies to help communities support the missions of military installations. (Fla. Stat. Ann. §163.3175; 2012 House Bill 7075.)
  • The North Carolina General Assembly passed a law that requires local governments to provide written notice of proposed changes to a zoning ordinance to the commander of the military base not less than 10 days nor more than 25 days before a public hearing, if the change would affect the permitted uses of land located five miles or less from a military base. If the military provides comments or analysis regarding the ordinance’s compatibility with military operations at the base, the board of commissioners must consider the comments and analysis before making a final determination on the ordinance. (N.C. Gen. Stat. §153A‑323 and §160A‑364.)
  • In Texas, a community near a military installation must seek comments and analysis from defense base authorities if the community determines that a proposed ordinance, rule or plan may impact a military base or the military exercise or training activities. If a community includes a municipality with a population of more than 110,000, is located in a county with a population of less than 135,000 and has not adopted airport zoning regulations, the community must notify the defense base authorities of any proposed ordinance change and its compatibility with base operations within eight miles of a base. (Texas Local Government Code §397.001 through §397.005, amended by 2011 House Bill 1665.)

Funding to Purchase Property or Development Rights to Protect Compatible Land Uses

States can ensure compatible land use around military installations by purchasing property or development rights to create “buffer” areas. Partnerships for buffer areas—created between state and local governments, federal entities and nongovernmental groups—can be used to acquire land around military installations so that it remains undeveloped. In many cases, these areas have the potential to become a refuge for the nation’s threatened and endangered plants and animals—an issue that is also of concern to many citizens and legislatures. Nineteen states have enacted laws that create funding or funding mechanisms to support projects that would provide a buffer area near military installations.

Map of States with Funding to Purchase Property or Development Rights Near Military Installations

Examples of State Policy Approaches

  • The Florida Forever Act, a 10-year, $3 billion program enacted in 2009, allocated funds to acquire and preserve valuable land, including land near military installations. Agencies receiving funds under the program were expected to cooperate with military partners to protect and buffer military installations and military airspace. (Fla. Stat. §259.105.)
  • The Oklahoma legislature enacted Senate Bill 1675 in 2006, which created the $1 million Oklahoma Military Base Protection Grant Program. Local communities can apply for a matching grant for critical infrastructure improvements, encroachment issues, transportation and to access needs, utilities, communications, housing, environment and security in order to prevent adverse realignment or military base closure.
  • In a Texas special election in 2003, voters approved Proposition 20, which amended the Texas constitution to authorize the issuance of general obligation bonds not to exceed $250 million from general revenues to provide loans to defense-related communities. The loans would be repaid by the defense-related community, and could be used for economic development projects, including projects that would enhance the value of military installations. (2003 Senate Joint Resolution 55; 2003 Senate Bill 652; Texas Government Code §436.153 through §436.159; Texas Government Code §486.052.)

Land Use Planning and Compatible Land Use Statutes

Local planning and zoning ordinances can also be used to resolve land use issues near military bases. To prevent uncontrolled development, military bases and operating areas can be recognized as “critical” areas, and state legislatures can require that lands near boundaries of these areas are used only for compatible uses. These policies also can provide justification for the requirements by recognizing the importance of military installations for economic wellbeing and national security. Twenty-three states have provided buffers around ranges and installations. 
States with Compatible Land Use

Examples of State Policy Approaches

  • The Arizona legislature enacted a series of laws from 2001 to 2007 that enforce planning, zoning and noise requirements to promote compatible land use near the state’s four military airports, including protections for low-level air training routes. Local governments may also acquire land or interests in land for the continued operation of a military airport or ancillary military facility. (Ariz. Rev. Stat. Ann §9-461.05 et seq.; Ariz. Rev. Stat. Ann. §28-8480 and §28-8481; Ariz. Rev. Stat. Ann §32-2183.05; 2001 Senate Bill 1525; 2004 House Bill 2140; 2004 House Bill 2141; 2004 House Bill 2662; 2006 House Bill 2060.)
  • In its 2012 session, the Arizona legislature passed another measure to give the state flexibility around the use of state trust lands. (“State trust lands”—10.9 million acres in Arizona—were granted at the time of statehood and are intended to produce revenue for various public institutions.) The measure revised the process to review, evaluate and approve proposed exchanges of state trust lands for other public lands for certain purposes, one of which is the preservation and protection of military facilities in the state. (2012 Senate Bill 1001; Proposition 119, November 2012 general election.)
  • In Utah, a measure passed in 2011 allows a Military Installation Development Authority (MIDA) to petition for annexation of a project area as if it were the sole private property owner, if the area to be annexed entirely is contained within the boundaries of an installation. (2011 Senate Bill 293.)
  • Washington law prohibits any local government comprehensive plan or development regulation from allowing development in the vicinity of a military installation that is incompatible with the installation's ability to carry out its mission requirements. (Wash. Rev. Code §36.70A.530.)

Light Pollution or Dark Skies Requirements

A significant amount of military testing and training is conducted at night. Night lighting from communities—which illuminates the ground and the sky—can interfere with military vision technologies, navigation technologies and landing field training. Excessive “light pollution,” as it is sometimes called, can also obscure the night-time sky from view, constrain energy resources or disrupt wildlife habitats.

Fourteen states have policies to mitigate these effects, which are often referred to as “dark skies” requirements. Most commonly, the policies require lighting to be shielded so that light is emitted only downward. Some also include requirements for low-glare or low-wattage lights, landscaping and security lighting that would fully shield the lights, and illuminated engineering  guidelines incorporated into state regulations.

Map of States with Statutes to Reduce Light Pollution

Examples of State Policy Approaches

  • The Arkansas Shielded Outdoor Lighting Act required any outdoor lighting fixture installed after Jan. 1, 2006 with public funds to be shielded, unless a county or municipality determines that the cost of acquiring a shielded outdoor lighting fixture would be prohibitive after comparing the cost of the fixtures; and the projected energy cost of the operation of the fixtures. It also requires electric public utility companies to offer a shielded lighting service option. (Ark. Stat. Ann. §8-14-101.)

  • The Colorado legislature established criteria for any new outdoor lights installed using state funds. It requires the state Department of Transportation, before lighting a state highway, to determine that the purpose of the outdoor lighting fixture cannot be achieved by installing reflective road markers, lines, warning or informational signs, or other effective methods that do not require the use of artificial light. (Colo. Rev. Stat. §24-82-901.)
  • Texas law allows counties with a population of more than 1 million and containing at least five U.S. military bases (and any county adjacent to that county that is within 5 miles of base) to adopt orders at the request of a base to regulate the installation and use of outdoor lighting within 5 miles of the  installation. (Texas Local Government Code §240.032; 2009 House Bill 1013.)