Should site plan review be required for shoreline residential development? – Part 2

Requiring site plan review for shoreline residential development in some communities may reduce zoning violations and misunderstandings. Part two of this article outlines specific options for the site plan review process.

One of the most effective ways local communities can protect water quality is to focus on the development and redevelopment of riparian properties along lakes, rivers and streams. Requiring formal site plan review on these properties is one way to more effectively enforce shoreline zoning provisions.

Site plan review is a formal process where the applicant or their agent submits a map identifying the location of all site features along with a written description. The review is usually conducted by the planning commission, but in some communities may be the elected body or zoning administrator. The goal is to be sure that the proposed development meets all local ordinances, and state and federal laws.

The site plan for waterfront parcels should consist of an accurate parcel map, drawn to scale, and minimally include:

  • The location of all property boundaries
  • The location of the high water level; this is particularly important, since the shoreline locations may change with rising and falling water levels
  • Contour lines drawn at 2-foot intervals
  • The location of both existing and proposed structures, along with other impervious surfaces
  • Calculations of the percentage of existing impervious surface and proposed imperious surface lot coverage
  • Details about the greenbelt/buffer strip including a planting plan that describes the species to be planted, their locations and spacing
  • In some situations the planning commission may require more information that it considers relevant for their review

In their review, the planning commission, or elected body or zoning administrator if stated in the zoning ordinance, evaluates whether all zoning standards are met. The final approved site plan serves as an enforcement tool.

Site plan review does not have to be required for all projects. Minor changes resulting in minimal disturbance to the lakeside environment can be exempted, if the community desires.

Although site plan review is a valuable tool, the process is only as good as the clarity and practicality of the zoning standards being applied. Vague or incomplete ordinance language can make the review process frustrating for both the applicant and planning commission. Two previous Michigan State University Extension News articles outline common shoreline protection zoning provisions:

Evangeline Township in Charlevoix County conducts site plan review and approval on all waterfront development projects. Portions of that township border two popular lakes – Lake Charlevoix and Walloon Lake. The shoreline development standards in the Evangeline Township zoning ordinance are somewhat complex, but very clear. In their experience, well-stated standards and required site plan review reduced misunderstandings and improved the compliance with zoning ordinance standards.

While site plan review for shoreline residential properties is not the ideal choice for all communities, it is certainly an option worth considering along lakes and streams with development pressure.

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