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Wisconsin considers shoreline building changes

Todd Richmond
AP Writer

Madison (AP) — Shoreline property owners would have to limit the size of new driveways, decks and roofs under changes to Wisconsin’s waterfront building regulations announced by state environmental officials Wednesday.

The revisions represent the first major redraft of Wisconsin’s shoreline building standards in more than 40 years and underscore how development around the state’s lakes and rivers has shifted from family cottages to year-round homes and multiunit complexes.

Officials with the state Department of Natural Resources said more hard surfaces means less vegetation.

That means less food for local wildlife. More runoff contaminated with fertilizer and chemicals can seep unimpeded into the water, too, leading to algae blooms and pollution.

“Wisconsin has changed since 1968,” DNR Secretary Matt Frank said.

The state’s shoreline regulations have remained virtually untouched since the 1960s. Counties have created stricter standards as development increased, resulting in a hodgepodge of ordinances.

The DNR has been considering updates to the state regulations since 1998. The agency has collected 50,000 public comments on drafts of the revisions, Frank said.

The new package includes limiting waterproof surfaces to 15 percent of the property’s total area, with an allowance for 30 percent if homeowners reduce runoff or restore native plants; building heights within the minimum 75-foot setback from the water capped at 35 feet; an end to rules limiting spending on changes to structures built before the original regulations went into effect; requirements to improve water quality and wildlife habitat for homeowners who want to expand a pre-existing structure within the setback.

Right now counties accommodate nonconforming structures largely through variances. The revisions should reduce the red tape, said Liesa Lehmann, DNR water quality section chief.

The plan has a broad swath of support. DNR officials announced it at a news conference with representatives from a number of lake property stakeholder groups, including the Wisconsin Association of Lakes, the Wisconsin Realtors Association and the Wisconsin Builders Association.

Bill O’Connor, a lobbyist for the lakes association, said the rules look reasonable.

“It’s a step forward,” he said. “We’ve had the same rule in place for 40 years.”

The Natural Resources Board, which sets policy for the DNR, is scheduled to vote on the rules at a meeting in New Richmond on June 24.

If the rules pass the board, they would be subject to legislative review. Democrats control the Legislature and Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle’s administration runs the DNR, making opposition unlikely.

Still, the leaders of the Assembly and Senate environmental committees said they planned to take a hard look at the provisions.

“I respect the fact that people who disagreed over the years struck a deal, but there are concerns that it will allow, in some circumstances, increased development,” said state Rep. Spencer Black, D-Madison, chairman of the Assembly Natural Resources Committee.

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