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County changes zoning to attract 'green' development

Let them build it (in an environmentally-friendly way) and they will come.

That's the hope of Becker County commissioners, who have loosened restrictions on housing developers to encourage them to embrace conservation-based design for new developments on lakes and wetlands.

The county board and the planning commission have worked together to amend the county zoning ordinance toward that end.

A special county board meeting was called Tuesday to act on proposed amendments to the county zoning ordinance -- changes that were recommended by the planning commission at its Aug. 21 meeting.

According to County Zoning Administrator Patty Johnson, the primary purpose of the amendments was to make conservation-based development more attractive to developers.

The multi-unit residential development (or MURD) regulations pertaining to lakeshore property were too restrictive, Johnson noted.

Under the proposed revisions, the shoreland MURD would be changed to a conservation subdivision development, or CSD.

As defined under the revised section 7A, a conservation subdivision would be "a method of development characterized by clustering homes adjacent to a permanently preserved, common open space. Critical natural areas and community recreation areas are identified and protected. Vulnerable natural features are incorporated into the design, which provides for the preservation of significant native habitat and creates a balance between housing development and the ecology of shoreland areas."

In a conservation subdivision development, 70 percent of the shoreland would be preserved in its natural state, and "50 percent of the project would be held in open space" -- which would enable the "significant natural features" of the property to be protect, she added.

Under the amended ordinance, requirements for development on natural environment lakes would be more dependent upon the physical size of the lake. For lakes larger than 250 acres, one dwelling site would be allowed for each 200 feet of lakeshore and 80,000 square feet of suitable area; for lakes smaller than 250 acres, the requirement would be one site for each 250 feet of lakeshore and 100,000 square feet of suitable area.

Though the commissioners did approve most of the recommendations from planning and zoning, there was at least one key difference:

Planning and zoning had proposed an amendment to section 5, "classification of districts," that would allow all wetlands greater than 10 acres to be classified as natural environment lakes, with all the attendant setback and lot size restrictions.

This "had the potential to have a big impact" on lakeshore development, Johnson said.

However, the commissioners felt a 10-acre wetland was too small to be classified as a natural environment lake.

Instead, they approved an amendment requiring a 50-foot buffer of natural vegetation between wetlands 10 acres or larger and any surrounding development.

Another amendment, to allow two boat slips for each riparian unit on a general development or recreational development lake, drew some controversy.

Commissioner Barry Nelson felt that this amendment, which would make the county's standards less restrictive than standards imposed by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, would never get the required approval from the DNR.

He proposed changing the wording to 1.5 boat slips per unit, but this was shot down by Commissioner Karen Mulari, who amended Nelson's motion to revert back to the original recommendation of two boat slips. This amendment was approved by the board, with Nelson voting against it.

Vicki Gerdes

Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 16 years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as covering city council and the Lake Park-Audubon School Board. Living in DL with my cat, Smokey.

(218) 844-1454