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Strengthening Collaboration between Military Installations and Their Host Communities: A Practicing Planner’s Perspective

Published onMar 30, 2018
Strengthening Collaboration between Military Installations and Their Host Communities: A Practicing Planner’s Perspective

(Header Image: Storm surge from Hurricane Isabel floods the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, 2003. Source: Navy employee, public domain,


This article looks at the history and development of planning and land use interactions between military installations and their surrounding communities in the United States. From the perspective of a practicing planner, the paper addresses the ways regional planning has evolved to enable more effective collaboration between them. Since the establishment of the Air Installation Compatible Use Zone program in the 1970s, the Department of Defense’s approach to planning and compatible land use has broadened beyond noise management to include other operational challenges. Driven by a greater awareness on  regional scales and increasing economic concerns resulting from multiple base realignment and closure rounds, the scope of this engagement has expanded to include innovative partnerships with conservation organizations, and joint land use planning efforts between the military and local governments, to mitigate mission and community impacts. Now, with an increased focus on developing regional solutions to civilian encroachment, and land-use incompatibility, the military has become an important partner for local and state governments and conservation organizations. Engagements between the military and its host communities reduces conflicts and promotes long-term sustainability both inside and outside an installation’s fence line. These engagements will be particularly important as the Department of Defense pursues options for addressing the impact of climate change on military installations and training operations. Continued engagement on a local and regional scale, particularly by military planners and their civilian counterparts, will be essential to limiting the impact of encroachment and ensuring the long-term mission success of the Department of Defense installations and their host communities.


Military planning, military-community partnerships, department of defense installations, encroachment, land use incompatibility, Noise Control Act.



Most military installations in the U.S. were initially established decades ago, far from population centers (Lachman 2007). These remote locations offered the military services a distinct advantage: the ability to conduct training operations without interfering with local communities and impacting quality of life. To avoid conflicts with nearby communities, the Department of Defense (DoD) relied on a strong connection between the American people and the military. An estimated 12% of the U.S. population served in World War II (Eikenberry and Kennedy 2013), and historically, the DoD’s land use strategy relied on goodwill from this significant veteran population and the recognition that national defense benefited the U.S. This approach was exemplified in the phrase, “pardon our noise, it’s the sound of freedom,” which acknowledged the impact of military testing and training operations on nearby communities (United States Environmental Protection Agency 1977).  However, with increased urbanization and development, once remote military installations had to worry about the incompatibility of land uses, a challenge the DoD refers to as “encroachment.” By the mid-1970s, many locations, including Andrews Air Force Base (now Joint Base Andrews) in the National Capital Region and Naval Air Station Oceana in the Hampton Roads Region of Virginia experienced significant nearby urban and commercial development (United States Environmental Protection Agency 1977). 

Military installations promote business development, research, and industry in the communities near where they are located and help develop opportunities for the private sector (Berger 2009). DoD spending creates employment opportunities across a wide range of sectors, both directly and indirectly. This economic impact is driven by active duty service members, civilian employees, and contractors who spend their wages on goods and services produced and provided locally. Other benefits, including pensions, support retirees and dependents as a reliable and sustained source of income (Schultz 2016). Due to this economic influence, the DoD has significant political power in communities in which military bases are located and it can influence these communities to address incompatible development and land use in the vicinity of its installations. The DoD has been uniquely positioned to assert itself as a leader on regional planning and land use efforts in the communities that host its installations. Given the unique economic and political position of many military installations, military leadership can act as “regional stewards” developing and initiating regional efforts across installation fence lines to engage and build sustainable, long-term relationships with key interests and stakeholders within their communities.

This paper argues that, beginning with the initiatives of the 1970s that addressed the impacts of noise from installations on nearby communities, the planning of military installations has evolved to encompass greater integration with these communities’ land use plans, paradigms that incorporate environmental resources within installation planning programs, and an ability to influence regional planning that can be leveraged for climate adaptation. Military installations can leverage their economic, social, and political influence to pursue planning and land use policies, including climate adaptation policies that support the military mission and benefit the key interests and stakeholders. Regional stewardship is the result of the ability to share power and mobilize people, ideas and resources. These regional stewards can also provide integrity and credibility and adapt well to complexity, uncertainty, and evolving circumstances. Military installations can initiate efforts across jurisdictions, sectors, disciplines, and cultures to forge alliances with diverse interests and viewpoints. As regional stewards, they can emphasize relationship building by respecting the diversity of ideas and viewpoints and recognize that respect builds trust, promotes communication, engagement, and mutually beneficial and agreed upon planning and land use outcomes (McKinney, Parr, & Seltzer 2004).


Noise and Development

As a result of the increased urban growth near military installations, the DoD established the Air Installation Compatible Use Zone program in the mid-1970s. The program was driven by the passage of the Noise Control Act of 1972 and developed with the stated objectives of protecting both the integrity of military operations at DoD bases and the safety, health, and welfare of the public affected by these operations. The Navy program relies on Air Installation Compatible Use Zone (AICUZ) studies, which were developed to instill confidence in adjoining communities and to assure them that the Noise Control Act would be implemented to protect them (United States Environmental Protection Agency 1977).

The initial AICUZ program focused on the areas of greatest noise impact: geographies immediately adjacent to military bases. For a military planner, the AICUZ study is an important tool for addressing land use and development issues near military installations. Since the program was initiated, military planners have relied on the land use compatibility guidelines published in DoD policy guidance. These guidelines are organized by the codes found in the Standard Land Use Coding Manual, which was published in 1965 by the U.S. Urban Renewal Administration (Department of Defense 2015).

Through an AICUZ study, the Departments of the Navy (including the U.S. Marine Corps) and the Air Force determine the area of noise impacts. Once an installation identifies the area of impact, they develop a program of noise reduction and compatible land use and work with local authorities to implement the recommendations (United States Environmental Protection Agency 1977). The Standard Land Use Coding Manual is an effective tool for military planners and allows for improved collaboration between military installations and nearby communities by providing a common planning language. Following the development of AICUZ studies, many communities have revised general plans, adopted zoning regulations, and developed capital improvement plans that support military missions and compatible land use.

One example of collaborative land use planning is Luke Air Force Base, in Maricopa County, Arizona.  Through continued coordination and engagement between the installation and nearby communities, regional stakeholders have developed a strong and collaborative planning relationship. For example, in their 2003 General Plan, Goodyear, Arizona established strict zoning standards. These standards limited the intensity of development inside the 65 decibel day/night average sound level.  The Villas at Palm Valley Condominiums Development and Talverde Estates were constructed along the boundary of these noise contours (City of Goodyear 2015).

Fig 1: The Noise Notification Map for the City of Goodyear, Arizona, adjacent to Luke Air Force Base, illustrates how zoning restrictions limit development within a 65 decibel noise level. Source: City of Goodyear.


Beyond Noise

Soon after the establishment of the AICUZ program, Marine Corps leaders at the base level recognized the need to address broader forms of encroachment. Currently, the Marine Corps defines encroachment factors as those “that degrade or have the potential to degrade the Marine Corps” capability to conduct current and future military testing, training, and general mission activities. Encroachment factors refer to the internal or external activities (e.g., wind energy infrastructure, endangered species, airfield safety and airspace clearances, and on-base facilities siting) that result in present or potential constraints to Marine Corps mission capabilities.” (Department of Navy 2015, 8). By 1985, senior Marine Corps leaders at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune in Jacksonville, North Carolina, published Base Order 11011.2, Encroachment Control. The order recognized that increased urbanization, regional population shifts, and environmental/natural resource restrictions near Camp Lejeune could adversely affect the missions performed at the base. Factors such as public development, transportation infrastructure, airspace congestion, potable water, and environmental and natural resources legislation could all have impact on operations. Subsequently, the Marine Corps Headquarters published Marine Corps Order 11011.22A, also titled Encroachment Control, in 1987. This order, since updated in 2010 and 2015, provides service-level[1] guidance to Marine Corps installations on the topic.

In addition to service-level guidance to address encroachment, Congress authorized the DoD’s Office of Economic Adjustment to establish the Joint Land Use Study (JLUS) program in 1985.  Through Title 10 U.S.C. Section 2391, the DoD was authorized to make community assistance grants to state and local governments to help better understand and incorporate the AICUZ Study program and the data developed through these studies into local planning programs (Office of Economic Adjustment 2002). JLUS’s provide an opportunity for the military community, including military land use planners, to work with county governments and citizens to address encroachment-related challenges in the vicinity of military bases. Through the joint planning process, the military and community develop policies and recommendations for future land use and development patterns that will promote the economic vitality and safety of communities located in the vicinity of a base (Maryland National Capital Park and Planning Commission 2009). 

The success of a JLUS depends on the level of engagement between the military and host community, with recommendations being implemented ideally over multiple years.  One successful example is at Joint Base Andrews Naval Air Facility Washington. The installation, which is the home of Air Force One, is located about 10 miles from Washington D.C. in suburban Prince George’s County. The Joint Base Andrews JLUS was initially completed in December 2009. It outlined general recommendations and promoted compatible land uses surrounding Joint Base Andrews, including establishing a “Military Installation Overlay Zone” as a new zoning overlay district. This new overlay zone was based on AICUZ criteria, and it would prohibit certain uses that attract high densities of people including schools, theatres, and community centers. The overlay zone would also promote low-density industrial uses more compatible with military installations under the Standard Land Use Coding Manual and DoD policy (Department of Defense 2015). Another key recommendation from the JLUS was a notification requirement at a real estate sale or lease execution. This recommendation called for revisions to the Prince George’s County Code to mandate all contracts for sale or lease in the Military Installation Overlay Zone be subject to real estate disclosure requirements (Maryland National Capital Park and Planning Commission 2009). Both recommendations, the Military Installation Overlay Zone and the real estate disclosure requirements, were implemented by Prince George’s County Council following the completion of the Joint Base Andrews Joint Land Use Study.

Fig 2. The Andrews Air Force Base Air Installations Compatible Use Zones (AICUZ) Study identified the “imaginary surfaces” created by flight paths which new development should avoid. Source: Joint Base Andrews Naval Air Facility Washington Joint Land Use Study.


Regionalism Driving Encroachment Management      

In the last decade of the 20th century, regionalism in planning—acting and thinking about land use policy on a regional scale, often accompanied with a shifting of authority to regional entities from local ones—experienced a significant renaissance (Foster 2001). This period, recognized as “resurgent regionalism,” resulted from a variety of factors, including increased or accelerated metropolitan decentralization, increased mobility between metropolitan regions, growing affluence, stronger global competition, and federal and state program devolution. Regional planning also placed value on functions and relationships rather than on jurisdictional boundaries. Successful regional engagement focused less on these boundaries, and encouraged more alignment with achieving shared and mutual interests (Seltzer & Carbonell 2011). Stakeholders at all levels of government—from public officials, to civic leaders, to residents—recognized that regionalism could address complicated cross-boundary issues including urban sprawl, sluggish regional economies, uncoordinated land use policy, environmental decline, and intra-regional inequities in housing, education, and tax capacity (Foster 2001). A regional framework encouraged local and environmental leaders to expand their engagement beyond traditional structures and processes. This cross-jurisdictional planning entailed identifying areas of common interest and using them to unite diverse stakeholders through working groups focused on collaborative, incentive-based solutions (Porter & Wallis 2002). For practicing planners, these non-traditional jurisdictions included military installations and operational and training areas utilized by the DoD.

In the early 1990s, when regionalism began to experience this resurgence, the DoD recognized that individual military installations and commands were devoting significant manpower and resources to stay current with environmental requirements and regulations. Furthermore, because this responsibility was borne by each installation independently, the regulatory monitoring process would be replicated is some ways at each installation in a given state, leading to duplication of effort, inefficiencies, and possible common misinterpretations that could cause gaps in compliance. In 1995, to address this, the DoD established the Regional Environmental Coordination program.

The Regional Environmental Coordinator program identified 10 regional geographies in the U.S. and divided these regions among the three existing military departments.  According to the DoD Instruction on the Regional Environmental Coordinator program, the Secretary of the Army is responsible for four regions, while the Secretary of the Navy and Air Force are each responsible for three. The responsibilities of the Regional Environmental Coordinators are broad and diverse. They include coordinating with DoD components, advising the military services on federal, regional, state, and local actions affecting military missions, and monitoring operations conducted both on and off military property. The Regional Environmental Coordinators are also responsible for monitoring federal, regional, state, and local legislative and regulatory proposals and initiatives and evaluating their impacts, if any, on DoD missions and operations (Regional Environmental Coordinators n.d.).

Along with an increased focus on economic regionalism, regional approaches to environmental issues support the testing and training operations at military installations.  Conservation organizations, including land trusts, now recognize military installations for their conservation potential.  These military landscapes serve as protected areas and wildlife refuges, totaling more than 100,000 square kilometers across a variety of ecosystems. Military training grounds now host endangered species and may even represent landscape and ecosystem types no longer in existence elsewhere (Boyd 2014). In some cases, such as at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, which is located between the populations centers of Los Angeles and San Diego in Southern California, military installations serve as an oasis in an otherwise developed landscape. For example, Camp Pendleton is home to sixteen threatened and/or endangered species (Sahagun 2012).


Reducing the Footprint

Concurrent with changes to the regional environmental management structure within the DoD, the U.S. Congress created the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) process. The purpose of the process was to adjust the DoD’s base structure and to make politically difficult adjustments to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the military. Under closure, installation missions would either move or be terminated altogether. Realignment, though, would refer also to any changes in installation mission, function, or personnel that did not accompany a reduction in activity or funding. Congress provided the DoD with authority to conduct four BRAC rounds: in 1988, 1991, 1993, and 1995. These actions resulted in 97 major base closures, 55 “major realignments,” and 235 “minor actions” for a net savings of $18 billion through fiscal year 2001. As a result of these closures, the DoD estimated an additional annual savings of $7 billion a year (ABC News 2005).

In 1998, the DoD presented that two additional BRAC rounds were needed to further reduce and consolidate its footprint.  In a 1998 report to Congress, “The Report of the Department of Defense on Base Realignment and Closure,” the DoD’s military and civilian leadership endorsed additional rounds in 2001 and 2005. The report argued that the previous consolidation and regionalization of DoD activities helped eliminate redundancies, improved operability, increased collaboration and information sharing, and reduced costs associated with deteriorated infrastructure.  

Although the 2001 round never occurred, the 2005 round was the biggest and most complex BRAC action conducted by the DoD (Government Accountability Office 2012). The round included 22 major closures and 33 major realignments. The BRAC Commission estimated that their recommendations would result in an estimated $35.6 billion in savings for the DoD over the next two decades.  Beyond that, the Commission estimated that the cost of implementing its recommendations would result in annual savings of $4.2 billion with an implementation cost of $21 billion (Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission 2005). 

Innovative Partnerships

In the 2003 National Defense Authorization Act, Congress authorized the Secretary of Defense, or the secretaries of a military department, to establish agreements with an eligible entity in order to address the use or development of real property in the vicinity of a military installation. The legislation, authorized through 10 USC §2684a, focused on two development impacts in particular: (1) any development that is incompatible with the mission of a military installation; and (2) preserving habitat that either is compatible with environmental requirements or eliminates or alleviates current or anticipated environmental restrictions that impact military testing, training, or operations at installations (National Defense Authorization Act 2003). 

The Readiness and Environmental Protection Initiative (now called the Readiness and Environmental Protection Integration (REPI) program) was established by the Office of the Secretary of Defense shortly after the passage of the 2003 National Defense Authorization Act. The program provides a framework for centralized funding and distribution of resources to support compatible land use partnering projects. As required in 10 USC §2684a, a REPI project must address either incompatible land use or environmental requirements related to current or anticipated training, testing, and support operations at military installations, at ranges, at operating areas, and in military airspace (Lachman, Wong, and Resetar 2007).

Another important component of the REPI program is the requirement for cost-sharing between the participating military departments and state and local governments and conservation organizations to achieve the program goals.  Through fiscal year 2015, the REPI program has leveraged $534 million in partner contributions from state and local governments and conservation organizations. In return, this has resulted in the protection of 437,985 acres of land and has preserved both natural resources and the geography necessary for DoD testing and training assets and capabilities (Readiness and Environmental Protection Integration 2016). The success of the REPI program is dependent on the engagement of local and state governments and conservation partners. These key partnerships provide essential support to the military mission while expanding habitat and protecting ecologically valuable land near military installations (Anderson, 2013).


State and Local Engagement

As the DoD has expanded its regional approach to land use planning and engagement, state governments have responded by establishing advisory bodies to assist them in their work with military installations. The vast majority of these groups were created within the last 10 years, either through legislation or by executive order. Some are permanently housed within an agency of the civilian administration, while others are temporary, created prior to a federal BRAC round. Minimizing the effects of encroachment around military bases is a priority for many of these advisory bodies because the extent of encroachment is a key factor in BRAC decisions (Schultz 2016).

Naval Air Station Oceana, in Virginia Beach, Virginia, is a recent example of successful compatible land use planning and collaboration between the military and community. During the 2005 BRAC round, the Navy proposed moving the installation’s jets to Florida but changed the recommendation after the City of Virginia Beach agreed to a series of land use changes (Vergakis 2016). The City of Virginia Beach created the Oceana Land Use Conformity Program, which targets incompatible development in the area near Naval Air Station Oceana and provides incentives for conforming businesses to relocate to AICUZs where they will be compatible. The program provides additional incentives to businesses, reimbursing them for site plan applications and fees associated with business permits (City of Virginia Beach 2009). Since the program’s establishment in 2005, the City of Virginia Beach has rezoned more than 46,000 acres in the AICUZ footprint, extended sound attenuation requirements, and eliminated more than 1,300 incompatible units (City of Virginia Beach 2014).


Rethinking Noise

The AICUZ program was and remains an installation-focused solution to noise impacts on a nearby community. The most recent DoD guidance on the program, Department of Defense Instruction 4165.57, was published in March 2015. The instruction establishes policy and assigns responsibility within the DoD for educating air installation personnel and engaging local communities on issues related to noise, safety, and compatible land use in and around air installations (Department of Defense 2015). The instruction also promotes compatible land use on and in the vicinity of air installations and engagement with local and state government stakeholders to adopt legislation and regulations that support compatible land use.

As a result of the program, a suite of local planning solutions was recommended to localities by nearby installations completing or updating their AICUZ studies. These recommendations often included working with local governments on building permit reviews related to the height of a proposed development. Other standard recommendations direct DoD installations to participate in local comprehensive planning processes, engage the community in routine conversations on issues related to incompatible development, and seek effective land use controls. Potential land use controls can include AICUZ overlay zoning ordinances, planned unit developments, subdivision regulations, and height regulations. Other strategies to achieve compatibility include use of building codes, transfer of development rights, real property acquisition, buffer lands and restrictive easement acquisition, and real estate disclosure ordinances (Butler 2006).


An Emerging Focus on Climate

In 2010, the DoD published its Quadrennial Defense Review, a strategic document that outlines the Pentagon’s vision for its missions and force structure relative to anticipated or perceived threats. The 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review, the first one issued by the Obama administration, identified climate change as a significant factor in the future operational environment. The document recognized that climate change will affect the DoD in two ways. First, climate change will shape the operation environment and the missions that the military services undertake. While climate change may not be the direct cause of conflict, its effects could result in extreme weather events, food and water scarcity, or increased migration. All of these impacts could undermine political institutions and result in increased potential for conflict (Busby 2007). Second, it will have an impact on DoD facilities and infrastructure.  As early as 2008, more than thirty military installations were at risk due to the potential for elevated sea levels as a result of climate change (Department of Defense 2010).

With the publication of the Quadrennial Defense Review and the issuance of Executive Order 13514, the individual military services began to address climate issues in their policy guidance. In September 2014, the Department of the Air Force published Air Force Instruction 90-2001, Encroachment Management. The instruction outlined the Air Force process for managing the impacts of encroachment on both mission and the quality of life in surrounding communities. One key component of the instruction was the inclusion of thirteen encroachment and sustainment challenges, including “Natural Factors and Climate Effects.” The instruction defined this challenge as encompassing weather or disaster events and related management (both short- and long-term) that affect nearby communities and Air Force installations. The instruction included examples of natural factors, including severe weather events (e.g., hurricanes, tornadoes, and wildfires), natural disasters (e.g., earthquakes), and coastal erosion. The examples of climate effects included insect population changes, invasive species propagation, sea level rise, and changes to drinking water quality and supply.

The Air Force Instruction recognized that natural factors and climate effects could compound existing stresses, such as population growth, land use changes, and pollution. Changing climates have effects on installation mission capabilities. For example, warmer climates can lead to earlier spring snowmelt and higher stream flows earlier in the spring season—and correspondingly lower stream flows during summer and fall—resulting overall in a reduced and less reliable water supply. As noted in the 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review, severe weather and disaster events affect installations and the public. Installations and communities in proximity to coastal areas may be affected by rising sea levels resulting in a loss of natural resources, flooding of low-lying lands, and potential degradation of tests and training mission capabilities or capacities caused by damage to, or loss of, operational areas and infrastructure (Air Force Instruction 2014).

In 2016, the DoD’s Strategic Environmental Research and Development Program published a report titled, “Regional Sea Level Scenarios for Coastal Risk Management: Managing the Uncertainty of Future Sea Level Change and Extreme Water Levels for Department of Defense Coastal Sites Worldwide.” The report, and its accompanying scenario database, provided regionalized sea level and extreme water level scenarios for three future time horizons for 1,774 DoD sites worldwide (Hall et al. 2016). The report highlighted the impact of global change, including climate change, and the particular vulnerabilities as a result of climate change on coastal military sites, and their associated natural and built infrastructure, operations, and readiness capabilities. This perspective resulted in the establishment of an inter-agency working group—informally known as the DoD Coastal Assessment Regional Scenario Working Group—led by the Strategic Environmental Research and Development Program within the Office of the Secretary of Defense (Hall et al. 2016).

The impact of climate change on DoD infrastructure requires regional solutions. Flooding resulting from climate change and subsequent sea level rise will not be confined to the installations.  The host communities of coastal military installations will also face growing exposure to rising seas.  As communities and military installations are increasingly interdependent, the risks associated with sea level rise are closely intertwined (Spanger-Siegfried et al. 2016). In response to increased occurrences of climate impacts associated with sea level rise, communities such as Annapolis, Maryland are working with their military installations to address such impacts.  The city created an initiative, Weather It Together, a community-based planning program designed to enable the historic community to adapt to and minimize the risks associated with flooding (City of Annapolis 2015). In addition to the efforts of the City of Annapolis, the Naval Academy established a Sea Level Advisory Council in 2015.  The Council, which includes representatives from both the DoD and City, provides analysis, guidance, and recommendations to the Academy’s superintendent and senior leadership and are working together to evaluate sea level rise projections and formulate a plan. (Jedra 2016).

Fig. 3: In the “Weather It Together” program, the City of Annapolis has partnered with the U.S. Naval Academy among other key partners to develop a model for cultural resource adaptation planning. Source: City of Annapolis.



The efforts of the DoD, beginning with the AICUZ program in the 1970s, have improved collaboration with its installations’ host communities through community engagement and compatible land use planning. The threat of encroachment highlights the need for a partnership approach. Successful partnerships have resulted in regional engagement on environmental and land use issues between the military and non-traditional stakeholders. Through extensive community engagement, including programs designed to address land use near military installations and an increased focus on regional cooperation and planning, the DoD and its host communities have improved their response to operation threats, including land use, noise, conservation, and climate change. These environmental issues, now categorized broadly as encroachment, represent a segment of a larger suite of mission-related concerns identified in DoD policy. As a result, opportunities for the preservation of military missions in a variety of geographies, including areas experiencing significant population growth and the effects of climate change in the U.S., have benefited from stronger community and military collaboration in recent decades.


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[1] “Service” refers to the four military services:  Army, Navy, Marine Corps, and Air Force. Each service develops policies based on the guidance received from the Department of Defense.

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