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CROW WING COUNTY: Zoning changes go before board

Proposed changes to Crow Wing County’s zoning ordinances will go before commissioners Tuesday. 

Members of the public will again have an opportunity to tell commissioners their thoughts about the suggested changes at a 10 a.m. public hearing. 

Critics of the changes say they are too restrictive, infringe on the rights of property owners and will negatively affect property values. County officials contend the changes are a balance between property rights and protecting water quality, itself an engine in the lakes area economy. 

Some of the latest revisions make significant changes in what the county first proposed. 

The first suggested revisions to the county’s zoning regulations generated more than 100 comments from the public. It was the first time the county received so many comments on any ordinance revision. The county made additional revisions based on the  comments. 

Hot-button issues on the ordinance revisions revolve around impervious surface, vegetation buffers, an increase in lot sizes on general development lake lots, phasing out of a one-time expansion for nonconforming structures and septic system setbacks. 

• Impervious surface. 

Currently the county has limits on impervious surface — paving, rooftops, decks — from 15 percent to 25 percent depending on the zoning. The county points to studies showing a degradation of water quality with impervious surface greater than 15 percent.

In the first revision, the county suggested a Shoreland Protection Zone for the first 500 feet, allowing 15 percent impervious or 20 percent with an engineered stormwater plan. For the next 200 feet in the Shoreland Buffer Zone, the county proposed an impervious limit of 20 percent. 

In the proposed revisions going before the board Tuesday, the county suggests zero to 15 percent impervious for the first 500 feet with no stormwater plan, 15-20 percent with a stormwater plan and 20-25 percent with a stormwater plan and buffer. For the next 500 feet in the Shoreland Buffer Zone, the county suggests 25 percent impervious with best management practices. 

• Lake lot sizes. 

Currently, the county zoning calls for 20,000 square foot lake lots on general development lakes. 

The revised plan called for an increase to 30,000 square feet for newly created lots. That same size is suggested in the latest plan. 

• Vegetation buffers. 

Currently, the county doesn’t require buffers or no-mow areas. 

In the original ordinance revision, the county suggested a requirement for a 10-foot shoreline buffer on all riparian or lake property permits. 

Now the county is suggesting a 25-foot shoreline buffer on Natural Environment lakes only. No buffer would be required on General Development or Recreational Development lakes, except in cases where the impervious surface is greater than 20 percent. The buffer would be required for variances and conditional use permits. 

• One-time expansion. 

Currently, the county has a one-time expansion of nonconforming structures, allowing a 50 percent addition to any structure built before 1970. 

The first revision eliminated the expansion option. 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.

The new plan calls for a phasing out of the expansion option during four years with a maximum of 500 square feet for total expansion. 

In comments to the Planning Commission, which recommended the changes to the county board at its Feb. 22 meeting, Mark Liedl, land services director, said the public comments received came from across the board to include more input than is normally involved. 

That perspective is what the county hoped to achieve, Liedl said. Now the public will have another option to bring thoughts to the county board before a final decision is made. 

RENEE RICHARDSON may be reached at or 855-5852.