If you’re shopping for waterfront property, you should know about shoreland zoning and the rules that go with it. No one likes rules. But the first thing you should know is that these rules don’t just benefit fish, birds, and wildlife, they benefit you.
By preserving the up north qualities of our lakes and streams, these rules also preserve your property values. Even up here in NW Wisconsin, some lakes have a more urban feel. Other lakes, however, still have a relatively undeveloped feel – even though most of their shoreline is developed. Views are preserved, privacy is preserved, and so are property values.
Second, it’s important to know that certain minimum standards are in place in Wisconsin. In some counties, and even on certain lakes and streams, the rules are more strict. Existing homes, of course, are grandfathered in. But if you’re building on shoreland anywhere in Wisconsin, you’ll need to meet these minimum standards:
- Lot size. Lots served by a public sanitary sewer must have a minimum average width of 65 feet and a minimum area of 10,000 square feet. “Unsewered” lots must have a minimum average width of 100 feet and minimum area of 20,000 square feet.
- Buffer strip. Clear-cutting of trees and shrubs isn’t allowed in the strip of land from the ordinary high-water mark to 35′ inland. One exception is for a 30′ wide path, for every 100′ of shoreline, down to the water. That allows you to reach the water, have a great view from your living room, and still protect your privacy. (And also, by the way, preserve the view of whoever lives across the lake.)
- Setbacks. All buildings and structures must be set back at least 75′ from the ordinary high-water mark. Exceptions include piers and boat-hoists. And, if an existing pattern of development exists, some counties may have a “setback averaging” system that allow homes to be built closer to the water. On certain bodies of water, though, setbacks are increased to 125′ – or, in rare cases, up to 300′.
This is just an overview; for details on these and other shoreland zoning provisions, contact the DNR or county officials. Keep in mind, too, that existing homes are grandfathered in. When you buy one, you obviously can’t do much to change the lot size or setback. You can, however, take steps to restore the buffer of natural vegetation along your home’s waterfront.
But don’t try shoreline restoration just because it’s good for the environment. Do it if you’d like to increase your privacy, see more birds and wildlife, and catch mroe fish. (And also, by the way, spend less time mowing your lawn.)
Buying or selling in NW Wisconsin? Call Jean Hedren, Edina Realty NW Wisconsin Realtor. 218-590-6634. Or visit www.JeanHedren.com.
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