Monday, June 1, 2015

ICLRA posts its shoreland zoning recommendations

Improving Iron County’s Shoreland Protection Ordinance

After comparing Iron County’s current Shoreland Protection Ordinance (SPO) to that of other counties in the Northwoods and the statewide minimum standards as outlined in NR115, Iron County Lakes and Rivers Association (ICLRA) is recommending specific improvements to the county’s SPO that will best reflect the needs of the local citizens and aquatic resources.  If all adopted, these changes will work in concert to protect the beauty and character of our shorelines, improve the clarity of our waters, protect property values on our shores, and improve the fishing. The following recommendations fall within nine areas and are based upon successful practices being implemented in other counties in the north. 

1.      Shoreland and Isolated Wetlands
2.      Building Setbacks
3.      Setback Averaging
4.      Shoreland Buffer Protection Areas and Viewing Area Corridors
5.      Shoreland Lighting
6.      Impervious Surfaces
7.      Mitigation
8.      Landowner Consultation and Site Inspections
9.      Staff and Resource Needs
Wetlands provide critical habitat for wildlife, water storage to prevent flooding and protect water quality, and recreational opportunities for wildlife watchers, anglers, hunters, and boaters.  Under NR115, shoreland wetland standards apply to all wetlands within the shoreland zone that are greater than 5 acres in size. However, some counties have approved more stringent shoreland wetlands standards. Common variations include applying shoreland wetland standards to all mapped wetlands that are 2 acres or greater or to all wetlands within the shoreland zone regardless of size or the presence of the wetland on a map.

ICLRA Recommendations
·        Wetland Protection for ALL shoreland and isolated wetlands regardless their size (ex. Vilas County)
·        Require a 35 foot setback from all wetlands


Building setbacks protect human health and welfare, preserve natural beauty, reduce flood hazards and avoid water pollution. Runoff from structures located too close to the shore quickly carries nutrients, sediment, and other pollutants to a lake or stream with very little opportunity for a shoreland buffer to filter contaminants or infiltrate runoff.  

ICLRA Recommendations
·        Remove the “permanent” in Section 9.4.17 (A)(1).   “All permanent structures, except piers and boat hoists shall be set back seventy-five (75) feet from the ordinary high water mark of navigable waters.”
·        Do not allow the construction of new boathouses. 
·        Consider special protection of the Turtle Flambeau Flowage and other outstanding resources through the creation of an overlay district.

Where an existing development pattern exists, the shoreland setback for a proposed principal structure may be reduced to the average shoreland setback of the principal structure on each adjacent lot, but the shoreland setback may not be reduced to less than 40 feet from the OHWM. Many counties including Vilas and Langlade County have chosen not to allow setback averaging. In the rare situations where eliminating setback averaging is woefully unfair to the landowner, they may seek a variance from the Board of Adjustment. Variances in shoreland areas compromise water quality, fish and wildlife habitat, and natural scenic beauty. The effects of variances, though they may be imperceptible on an individual site, accumulate lot by lot throughout the shoreland. Therefore, allowing builders to build within the 75 foot setback should be a rare exception to the rule.

ICLRA Recommendations
·        Do not allow setback averaging (ex. Vilas County)


Natural vegetation on land abutting lakes and streams protects scenic beauty, controls erosion, provides wildlife habitat, and reduces the flow of effluents and nutrients from the shoreland into the water.  In addition, they provide homeowners more privacy and security.  Removing natural vegetation from the lakeshore reduces desirable game fish, such as yellow perch[1]. According to state law, the county must designate buffer zones, land that extends from the OHWM to a minimum of 35 feet inland where the removal of vegetation is prohibited with a few exceptions.  One of the exceptions is for the removal of trees to create viewing access corridors (VAC).  The combined width of all VACs on a riparian lot or parcel may not exceed the lesser of 30 percent of the shoreline frontage or 200 feet.  

ICLRA Recommendations
·        In order for the public to better understand the purpose of protecting shoreland vegetation, refrain from using the word buffer as it has many other connotations.  Refer to shoreland buffer protection area” as “vegetation and wildlife protection area” or “water and wildlife protection zone.”
·        Increase minimum “vegetation and wildlife protection area” width to 50 feet inland
·        Allow only one viewing area corridor per developed lot. A “filtered view” would be preferable rather than a clear cut.


Sensible shoreland lighting prevents unnessary light beyond that of which is needed for safety.  Excessive and poorly managed light results in hazardous glare, light trespass and sky glow.  Poorly-designed or poorly installed lighting causes glare that can severely hamper the vision of boaters, pedestrians, cyclists, and drivers, creating a hazard rather than increasing safety. Light trespass is a light fixture on one property that invades the privacy of neighbors and creates an unattractive look to an area.  Sky glow is light that is shown upward washing out the night sky obscuring the view of the stars.  Lighting technologies that can deliver adequate illumination, provide security, save money and reduce light pollution without competing with the beauty of the night. [2] 
ICLRA Recommendations
·        Shoreland Lighting Ordinance requiring shielded lights to prevent light trespass


Counties must establish impervious surface standards to protect water quality and fish and wildlife habitat and protect against pollution of navigable waters. Iron County’s SPO currently makes no mention of impervious surfaces.   ICLRA wishes to work with Planning and Zoning staff to determine what is best for our county. 


A mitigation plan is required for the expansion of nonconforming structures, replacement/relocation of nonconforming structures, and exceeding maximum impervious surfaces standards.  There is no mention of mitigation in Iron County’s SPO.  ICLRA wishes to work with Planning and Zoning staff to determine what is best for our county. 


NR115 does not require a minimum number of landowner consultations or site inspections.  However, counties with effective shoreline protections programs dedicate sufficient staff and resources to such efforts.  Site visits, especially design consultations, by staff will enable them to prescribe effective and reasonable site-specific mitigation measures possibly saving the landowner time and money.  A pre-planning or staking consultation may prevent new owners or builders from disturbing the existing shoreline vegetative buffer preventing the need for costly restoration or mitigation that is often not as effective at retaining runoff and providing habitat as the original, native plants.  At a bare minimum, a septic inspection should be required on all riparian lots prior to sale; mandatory correction needed if the septic system is found to be non-compliant.  Monitoring or follow-up consultations ensure that mitigation or restoration efforts were effective.  This will prevent unsightly scars on our lakeshores that result in more erosion, decreased habitat and murkier waters.   Langlade County staff conducts a total of six site visits per permit to ensure that the landowner and contractors are familiar with the shoreland zoning requirements and properly implement all mitigation measures.

It is recognized that a strong ordinance is only as good as the staff and resources available to educate the public and implement the ordinance.  We all recognize that the county has limited resources.  For that reason there is great need for the Planning and Zoning Department and the Land and Water Department to partner closely to ensure that the shoreland protection ordinance is proactively implemented to avoid the need for costly enforcement and degraded waters. 

Many counties seek a Lake Planning Grant from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources to help fund a shoreline specialist to serve both the Planning and Zoning Department and the Land and Water Department in conducting on site consultations, mitigation monitoring and public outreach (ex. Langlade/Lincoln).  Counties also incorporate the cost of site visits into the permit fee structure (ex. Langlade).

[1] Helmus, M., & Sass, G. 2008. The rapid effects of a whole-lake reduction of coarse woody debris on fish and benthic macro invertebrates. Freshwater Biology , 53, 1423–1433.
[2]  Liebl, D. and Korth, R.  2000. Sensible Shoreland Lighting (DNR FH-431) Retrieved 4/9/2015.

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