NISSWA - For years, people who live on lakes overlapping more than one county or city have wondered why the zoning rules on their side of the lake have to be different from those on the other side of the lake.
Two years ago, the Brainerd Lakes Chamber looked at predicted area growth and then undertook an effort to try to bring more uniformity to the Brainerd lakes micropolitan area. That area covers Crow Wing and southern Cass counties.
Teams of volunteers looked at needs and set goals during 2007. In 2008, they looked for funding and, with the help of the Region Five Development Commission, obtained a $40,000 grant to begin working toward more uniform standards here.
The first pilot region will be the Gull Lake chain of lakes. It is hoped standards set for this pilot region will serve as a model for the entire micropolitan.
Lake Shore planners Teri and Pat Hastings have been hired to guide representatives of Cass and Crow Wing counties; the cities of Lake Shore, East Gull Lake and Nisswa; and Fairview Township toward creating more uniformity in their comprehensive plans and zoning regulations.
Thursday afternoon, representatives from these government agencies discussed their priorities at a meeting at Nisswa Community Center.
Preserving lake and water quality for the region and the health of its residents, visitors and woodlands should be the result if this effort is successful.
Because the state recently updated the statewide wastewater regulations, all local governments now will need to update their local regulations to become compliant. Those attending Thursday's meeting see this as an opportunity to work together on making their updates more uniform.
Stormwater management also will be a priority. Natural vegetation buffer zones along lake edges are part of managing stormwater run-off. Maximizing green space also will be a planning focus.
The government representatives and the Hastings will look first at differences among existing comprehensive plans and zoning ordinances, then consider where terms, definitions and processes can be made more uniform.
Cass and Crow Wing county environmental employees have been sharing information and training. They expect to expand that sharing during this process. More input will be added from the cities and Fairview Township.
Crow Wing Administrator Tim Houle said he expects it will be difficult for this many local governments to set aside parochial attitudes, so more uniformity can be developed for this pilot comprehensive plan and zoning standardization. It will be even more difficult to sustain over time, he predicted.
"We don't want to lose our uniqueness," Loren Wickham, Nisswa city planner, said.
Cass County Environmental Services Director John Sumption said part of the process may require revised state legislation.
Currently, counties must have zoning regulations at least as strict as or stricter than the state. Townships must regulate at least as strictly or more strictly than counties. However, there is no such requirement for cities.
Sumption suggested this planning group should seek a new state law to require cities to be as compliant as counties where they are located. If legislators do not find this appealing statewide, Cass and Crow Wing counties could seek special legislation for this area, he said.
There was a consensus Thursday that more public education is needed to explain why Cass and Crow Wing set the zoning regulations they do and why both seek more stormwater run-off management in the future to protect area lakes.
Houle said Crow Wing's zoning office is trying harder to ask permit applicants, "How can we help you do the right thing?"
Sumption noted he has scheduled a March 11 meeting at Nisswa Community Center for area contractors and engineers to provide them with more information on county planning and zoning issues such as stormwater and wastewater management.
Rod Osterloh, area Realtor, said it is difficult for real estate sales people to promote shoreland buffers or to be the main educator for lakeshore buyers when people come here from outside the area all looking for that ideal sand beach or a shore they think they can convert to a sand beach.
He thinks the education needs to start beyond just this area.
The planning process, which could take up to two years, also will look at trails, parks, public land use, recreational facilities and model policies.
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