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ZONING CHANGES: A HOT-BUTTON ISSUE

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Want to get citizen involvement in government? Propose changes to the zoning ordinance.

"We've received over 100 comments," said Chris Pence, land services supervisor in the county's planning and zoning Land Services Department. "It's the first time this has ever happened to have over 100 comments on any ordinance revision. We are taking them very seriously. I want people to know that. They are just not put in a file. The comments have been very good, very impressive."

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Efforts to streamline what the county describes as a wordy ordinance and make it more clear are welcome changes, said Kevin Goedker, Greater Lakes Association of Realtors president. Goedker is also a Brainerd City Council member. But Goedker, who is speaking for GLAR, said some of the changes are over-reaching.

"It really changes what people are able to do with their property today when people may have bought their property thinking they could use it in a certain way and now they are significantly changing it. And it could affect value of their property - not just in lakeshore."

Hot-button issues include a reduction in the allowable amount of impervious surface - paving, rooftops, decks - from 25 percent to 15 percent in the shoreland zone. Pence said the shoreland rules are using study data showing a degradation of water quality with impervious surface greater than 15 percent. The percentage of allowed impervious surface could go up to 20 percent with an engineered stormwater plan. The county's ordinance currently allows more impervious surface in segments of the shoreland zone than is allowed off the lake. Proposed changes would increase the impervious surface to

 25 percent in non-shoreland zones.

Goedker said the impervious surface change in the shoreland zone is too restrictive and could affect property values.

"I think people want to maintain the lakes, want to maintain their property, improve the values. However, if you have a government entity trying to change the way they use their property that is a major concern."

Some of the county's revisions came from the DNR's proposed shoreland standards rejected by former Gov. Tim Pawlenty last year. Goedker, who was on the committee to review those DNR changes, said he thought they went too far. Goedker said the goal is to protect water quality and people shouldn't take advantage of living on the water, but there are ways to protect the lakeshore efficiently without making it so restrictive.

"If we give people incentives to want to take care of their properties, I think that will go farther," Goedker said. "A lakeshore property owner wants to maintain the lake quality. They have an investment there that affects their value. There has to be a balance."

For Pence, balance is what the county is looking for between water quality and property rights.

"That was our goal from the beginning," Pence said.

Other hot-button issues include an increase in lake lot sizes, a requirement for stormwater management on all permits in the shoreland area, a shoreland buffer of 10 feet for a no-mow zone, and concern how changes will affect existing non-conforming structures - like cabins or homes built before 1970 that are closer to the water than today's standards allow.

"The intent of this ordinance is not to remove any rights to a non-conforming structure," Pence said, adding the proposed changes clarify that non-conforming structures may continue. By state law, those non-conforming buildings may be rebuilt with a permit.

Pence said concerns about the elimination of a one-time ability for a 50 percent addition to any structure built prior to 1970 have been noted and may lead to phasing in of the revision. Critics note it catches residents who may have planned an addition but put it off in the past only to find the option unexpectedly gone now.

"We're listening," Pence said. "Loud and clear."

A septic system change would push the setback farther from the water. For instance, a building setback on a general development lake is 75 feet, but the septic system setback is 50 feet. The county proposes moving the septic system back to the building's setback requirement. Pence said the decision came after looking at data, such as a pollution control study in Baxter in 2008 showing phosphorous plumes extend from 66 to 98 feet from the drain field in sandy soil.

"That's why we are here - to have clean water," Pence said. "We have some data that show in some lakes in Crow Wing County the water quality is degrading, others are neutral and others are going up. We hope to have all the water quality heading in the right direction."

The county's proposed changes call for a change to zoning districts. Instead of having two types of shoreland residential zoning, there would be one. Greenspace, long used as nearly an everything else category, would be gone. Instead the county would have an urban growth zone. The proposal expands rural residential zoning options from those with 2.5 acres or 5 acres to rural residential 1 acre, 2.5 acres, 5 acres, 10 acres and 20 acres. With the changes a new zone would be created for sensitive shoreland.

A report to the county board described the proposed revisions as ones recognizing "while lot size and setbacks from lakes are relevant to water protection, performance standards such as storm water management, natural buffers between lawns and the lake, minimal impervious (paved driveways, walkways and building roofs) surfaces on lake lots and well-functioning septic systems significantly affect water quality."

Goedker said streamlining the ordinance is an improvement and he wasn't advocating against water quality, just the way the county was proposing getting there.

"There are some things they are taking a little too far," Goedker said.

In prepared remarks to the board, Mark Liedl, land services director said: "If we are truly serious about protecting our lakes for future generations, we must move beyond the old debates and blunt instrument of lot size and setbacks as the Holy Grail of water protection. We can achieve far more with common sense performance standards that help lakeshore owners practice good stewardship of these vital resources."

For Goedker, the common sense approach may be reached by less restrictive measures to property owners. The county is compiling information from the comment period and looking at revisions. The county first allotted a 30-day comment period, which it later expanded to 60 days.

People have at least two more opportunities at public hearings, one expected before the Planning Commission in February and one before the county board, likely in March, to express themselves on the issue.

RENEE RICHARDSON may be reached at renee.richardson@brainerddispatch.com or 855-5852.

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Sarah Nelson
Sarah Nelson joined the Brainerd Dispatch in April 2010 and works as a online reporter, content editor and staff writer. She is a world traveler, accused idealist and California native now braving the winters of Central Minnesota. She believes in the power of human resolve and hopes to be part of something that makes history by bringing an end to injustice in the world. Sarah has worked as a criminal background researcher, high school civics teacher, grant writer, and contributing writer with Causecast.org — tackling every issue from global poverty to bio-degradable bicycles. Her favorite thing about living in Minnesota is July. Sarah left the Brainerd Dispatch in April 2014.
(218) 855-5879
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