Modifying your shoreline property? Check local regulations first – Part 2

Checking local zoning regulations is the first step for shoreline property owners considering major landscaping projects. The second part of this series outlines additional shoreline buffer provisions and sources of information.

Spring marks the season of the year when property owners make take on expansive re-landscaping projects. Before you become too involved, however, you should understand your community’s buffer restrictions. For more information about restriction basics, see part one of this series, “Modifying your shoreline property? Check local regulations first.”

Additional shoreline buffer zoning ordinance provisions may include:

Permitted species for planting

Since shoreline ordinance goals are intended to protect critical shoreline habitats, regulations may allow only native species to be planted. What “native” encompasses is defined within the ordinance. This restriction is especially important since many commonly planted landscape species are not native.

Vegetation removal

Removing trees, shrubs and other vegetation is usually prohibited or greatly restricted in shoreline buffer zones. There are usually exceptions for dead, dying or diseased plants, or for invasive species.  Trimming to allow filtered views is also usually allowed. Some communities require that a permit be obtained before removing vegetation.

Fertilizer and pesticide application

Fertilizer and pesticide application is regulated by state laws. The new phosphorus fertilization law, for example, prohibits phosphorus application adjacent to lakes and streams except in certain situations. Some local ordinances include additional restrictions on pesticide and fertilizer application, although their legality and enforceability may be questionable.

Site plan review

Site plan review is a procedure where a development plan and site drawing are reviewed by planning staff and/or the local planning commission. Most commercial and multi-family development requires site plan approval, although single family development may not require site plans. Some communities, however, require site plan approval for all construction or site modifications in shoreline districts.

Compliance with other local state and federal regulations
Many shoreline modifications require state, county or federal permits. For example, any construction activity that involves earthen work requires a local or county-issued soil erosion and sedimentation control permit. Nearly all shoreline modifications, such as seawalls, rock rip-rap or bio-engineered erosion controls require permits from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality. Some local zoning ordinances reinforce these regulations by requiring that all applicable county, state and federal permits be obtained before construction begins.

The Michigan Natural Shorelines Partnership offers excellent resources to help landowners and landscapers maintain or build landscapes that protect water quality. A reprint from The Michigan Riparian magazine includes an example of zoning ordinance shoreline protection provisions.

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