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ESL Overlay


The Environmentally Sensitive Lands Overlay (ESL) is a set of zoning regulations adopted by the City Council in 1991 (amended in 2001, 2003, 2004 and 2007) to guide development throughout the 134 square miles of desert and mountain areas of Scottsdale. These areas are located north and east of the Central Arizona Project canal.  Prior to ESL, some properties were established within the Hillside District (PDF).


The intent and purpose of the ESL is to identify and protect environmentally sensitive lands in the City and to promote public health and safety by controlling development on these lands. The ordinance requires that a percentage of each property be permanently preserved as natural area open space and that specific environmental features, including vegetation, washes, mountain ridges and peaks, be protected from inappropriate development.


Please review the instructional diagram (PDF) that demonstrates how to determine the buildable lot area.


ESL Overlay & NAOS Maps ​
ESL Overlay Ordinancelinks to external site
Exemption Schedule (PDF)
Design Standards & Policies Manual (DSPM)
​Wash Modifications​
Hardship Exemptions
Indigenous Plant List for ESL
List of Protected Native Plants
What is NAOS?


The ESL Overlay has a direct impact on the citizens of Scottsdale as its key provisions determine the location and design of residential, commercial, industrial and institutional development in two-thirds of the City. Application of the ESL Overlay, and its predecessor the Hillside Ordinance, has resulted in the preservation of over 9,000 acres of Sonoran Desert open space while protecting our citizens from potential flooding, erosion and visual blight. Other benefits include:

  • Open space between properties and along roadways
  • Maintaining wildlife corridors
  • Protecting native vegetation