Big changes to how Becker County regulates runoff and wetlands

The county approved much looser impervious surface restrictions on non-shoreland property, while ending most wetland protection on lakeshore property.

Wetlands in Becker County
Wetlands in Becker County
Meagan Pittelko / Detroit Lakes Tribune

DETROIT LAKES – Life just got easier for landowners and developers in Becker County: The Becker County Board has approved changes to the county zoning ordinance that say hello to much looser impervious surface restrictions on non-shoreland property, while saying goodbye to most wetland protections on lakeshore properties.

The new rules allow up to 65% impervious surface coverage on agricultural land, up from 25%.

On residential land, impervious surfaces can now cover 40%, up from 25%.

On commercial and industrial land, up to 75% can now be covered with impervious surfaces.

High-density residential land can now be covered with 65% impervious surfaces, up from 25%.


Conditional use permits will follow the type of use. If granted for commercial use, for example, the landowner will follow commercial impervious surface rules.

There is a safety catch, however: These increases are for non-shoreland areas only, and must include an engineered stormwater runoff plan for any impervious surface percentage over 35% in any district. Additionally, water can't flow onto a neighboring property.

The change will allow for denser developments, such as self-storage units, since land is becoming more expensive.

Impervious surfaces are pavement, buildings, patios, and sidewalks that don’t let water drain through to the soil below. On average, about 65% of impervious surfaces are used for roads and parking lots and the rest are buildings, according to the Minnesota Shoreland Management Resource Guide, put out by the University of Minnesota.

The ordinance amendments were approved April 5, with Commissioner Ben Grimsley dissenting. He objected to the steep changes in the maximum impervious surface percentages, and argued for less dramatic changes. “While increasing it might be warranted, this is over 100%, it’s too big an increase,” he said.

The County Planning Commission had earlier recommended approval.

“We just felt the previous impervious surface percentages were very restrictive,” said Becker County Planning and Zoning Administrator Kyle Vareberg. “We had been getting variance requests to increase it, which were granted by the Board of Adjustment, and any time you’re getting a lot of variance requests, you should go back and look at the ordinance.”

Wetlands on shore land

The county also approved big changes to how lakeshore owners must deal with wetlands on their property.


While the county ordinance used to require a 50-foot setback around protected waters and all types of wetlands on lakeshore and river property, the only wetlands protected now are those listed in the DNR inventory of “public waters” in Becker County.

Commissioner Richard Vareberg, for one, said it’s about time. Projects have been halted due to small areas of lakeshore that are classified as one of the eight types of wetlands in Minnesota, including some that rarely have standing water, he said.

“We didn’t want to be putting setbacks on private wetlands – a public body of water (like those in the DNR inventory) is different,” Kyle Vareberg said.

The amended zoning ordinance “is much cleaner and stronger, and it’s easier to enforce and administrate,” he added. “It has merit in it.”

The amended ordinance requires that public waters (that are not classified as a lake) require a 50-foot setback from any building, septic system or other use – measured from the ordinary high water mark of the public water.

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