Charlevoix County communities talk about shoreline zoning

Charlevoix County communities are working together to coordinate their shoreline zoning ordinances. Consistent regulation protects water resources and reduces business uncertainty.

Representatives from six communities that share Lake Charlevoix shoreline – four townships and two
cities - recently began meeting to explore how to make their shoreline zoning provisions better coordinated and more consistent. Lake Charlevoix is a 17,000 acre lake in northwest Lower Michigan
noted for its clear water, long shoreline and abundance of recreational opportunities.

The lack of shoreline zoning regulations between adjacent communities is a common problem in Michigan. Although many townships and cities restrict some forms of development to protect valuable shorelines and water quality, regulations vary quite a bit. The result is confusion among landowners, developers and landscapers, and enforcement difficulty. That uncertainty cost money and leads to less effective water protection.

Despite the advantages of coordinated shoreline planning and zoning, many communities sharing water resources do not often work together. According to a 2012 Michigan State University (MSU) Extension survey of local officials in the Lake Charlevoix watershed, working with adjoining communities on shoreline protection issues is one of the least common water quality protection practices by local governments. Planning commissions have a lot of work to do just to address the day-to-day planning and zoning challenges in their communities – working across jurisdictional boundaries can become a low priority.

The Lake Charlevoix group’s first task is to find out where the similarities and differences are between their ordinances. In other communities, those differences may be in the width of required greenbelts, lake or stream setbacks, prohibited activities in the greenbelt, acceptable species for planting, and many others. Even seemingly minor differences, such as whether the shoreline zone is measured from the current water line, historically high water line or another spot, can have significant impact on shoreline management.

Next, the group will identify those provisions that are ripe for revision by each community to create a common standard. No shoreline is completely uniform, so while some parts of a shoreline zoning provision may be coordinated, other provisions address unique situations within a specific community. The project’s final report will provide specific ordinance change recommendations for the townships and cities.

The Lake Charlevoix effort is supported by a Michigan Department of Environmental Quality grant to the Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council andMSU Extension. More important than funding is the commitment from governmental units to work together for water quality protection.

For more information about the Lake Charlevoix effort, contact Dean Solomon, MSU Extension Senior Educator.

Two previous MSUE News articles outline common shoreline protection zoning provisions:

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