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New shoreline zoning passes first hurdle

A proposal for new zoning regulations for shoreline properties passed its first hurdle Wednesday when the Natural Resources Board unanimously approved them.

The new regulations were designed to help protect the state's lakes, rivers and streams.

It took more than seven years of discussions and planning and 75,000 public comments to get to Wednesday's approval, said Todd Ambs, DNR water division administrator.

The goal is to keep rainfall on the property by not allowing it to run off into the state's lakes, adding sediment.

The changes affect both property owners on the water and those who live 300 feet from a lake and 1,000 feet from rivers and streams.

The changes eliminate the 50 percent rule -- a rule that disallowed improvements that would cost more than 50 percent of the property's value.

"That (rule) has been a nightmare," said Russ Rasmussen, director of the DNR Bureau of Watershed Management.

In its place comes a set of new regulations, including height limitations, a limit on impervious surfaces and a no clear-cut zone, which would restore the shoreline for native wildlife.

Projections show that by 2025, about 70 percent of shoreline will be developed, Rasmussen said. That's compared to the roughly 40 percent of developed shoreline in 1995.

The types of structures being built has also changed, he said. Bigger, year-round homes are being built compared to the small, summer cabins of the 1960s.

While most think getting rid of the 50 percent rule is a good thing, some of the other changes will just add work to county officials, said Karl Kastroky, who was at the meeting to represent the Wisconsin County Code Administrators.

WCCA members oppose the new rules because of the way some of the sections are worded, and the impervious surface rule might be difficult for landowners with small lots.

"Our concern is implementation," he said.

Under the new rules, landowners are limited to 15 percent of surfaces that those that don't let fluid pass through -- driveway, patio or building pad -- without having to plant other vegetation or systems to deal with runoff.

Kastroky said the WCCA had hoped the group would consider increasing the 15 percent limit to 20 percent. Originally the DNR had hoped to implement a 10 percent limit.

"10, 15, where do you draw the line?" Ambs asked.

The average, sewered lot is 10,000 square feet, Ambs said. That leaves 1,500 square feet for impervious surface -- enough room for a 1,500 square foot building pad and 9-by-49-foot driveway.

Those who want to add more than 15 percent impervious surface have the opportunity, but will have to take additional steps in keeping runoff from washing into waterways. Those options include installing rain barrels, rain gardens or planting vegetation.

Any property that does not currently comply with the new regulations will be allowed to "keep what you have," Rasmussen said.

Current non-compliant property owners would also be permitted to replacing a roof or driveway if it's kept the same size.

Sandra Verhulst, an Arbor Vitae resident, said it's the no clear-cut zone that has her most concerned.

The newly adopted regulations prohibit any removal of vegetation. The only exception is access and viewing corridors, shoreline restoration activities and invasive species control.

The new rule puts residents at risk to forest fires, Lyme disease and West Nile virus, she said.

Suggestions on protecting yourself from forest fires include keeping the grass green and mowed within 100 feet of your home, she said. Under the new rule, unmowed vegetation will be growing within 40 feet of some homes.

Unkempt vegetation also creates an increased risk of Lyme disease -- carried by ticks -- and West Nile virus -- carried by mosquitoes, she said.

George Meyer, executive director of Wisconsin Wildlife Federation, said restoring native vegetation is the only way to obtain a proper balance between humans and wildlife living near the water. It's for that reason that more than 20 counties across Wisconsin have already implemented mitigation regulations.

The next step for the regulations is to go before the Legislature's natural resources committees.