FAQs on Shoreland Protection Bill (H.526)

FAQs on Shoreland Protection Bill (H.526)

prepared by VT Agency of Natural Resources (4/3/13)

H.526 passed the Vermont House on March 22, 2013 and is currently under consideration by the Senate Natural Resources Committee. H.526 is different from H.223 primarily in that is clarifies that the bill is not shoreland "zoning" but rather environmental standards for lake and shoreland protection, and that municipal zoning of the shoreland area will remain in effect. A full copy of the bill can be viewed here: http://www.leg.state.vt.us/docs/2014/bills/House/H-526.pdf. The bill gives the Agency of Natural Resources (Agency) authority to adopt shoreland protection rules to implement the bill’s purpose and objectives. While the details of the final bill and the rules implementing it are not yet known, the following information is intended to interpret the bill as it currently reads (as of 4/3/13). The Agency supports the bill as providing greatly needed protection of lake water quality, aquatic and wildlife habitat, shoreline stability, flood resiliency, property values and the tax base, and the state’s vital tourism economy. The bill explicitly states that the intent is to provide protective measures while allowing for the "reasonable" development of the shorelands.

Why is this needed? We (lake residents/lake association) spend a lot of time taking care of the lake, including promoting good shoreland management. Are you implying we’re not doing a good enough job?

Collectively across Vermont too many lakes are not protected from development styles that are known to harm lakes. The removal of trees and shrubs right down to the lake’s edge increases polluted runoff, degrades aquatic habitat and destabilizes banks, resulting in damage to the health and values of our lakes.

Local involvement is an essential aspect of good lake management. Lake associations together with towns carry out important education and outreach, and projects such as milfoil control and spread prevention and shoreland and watershed management. However, across the state, there are still too many lakes left unprotected from poor shoreland development patterns. Even with state shoreland protection rules, local education and projects will still be as important as they are now.

The intent of a lake shoreland regulation is to:

Protect water quality, wildlife habitat, bank stability.

Protect the uses and values of lakes such as recreation, angling, tourism and the property tax base.

Avoid expensive lake restoration in the future.

Respond responsibly to economic development along lakeshores

Good shoreland management does not mean people can’t live along the lake and enjoy it. The management guidelines in a shoreland protection rule would allow "lake-friendly" new development and review redevelopment proposals to ensure lake protection is taken into account.

My town has setbacks and/or shoreland zoning, so we don’t need more requirements to protect the lake.

Unfortunately less than 20% of towns in Vermont have a shoreland ordinance that provides even minimal lake protection measures. (Note that a setback from the water’s edge alone without natural vegetation protection is not effective lake protection.) The current lack of lake protection standards in municipal shoreland zoning in Vermont is leaving too many lakes unprotected.

This bill is a one-size fits all solution and won’t be appropriate on all shorelands.

It’s true that Vermont shorelands vary widely from lightly developed shores in rural areas to urban waterfronts. The Agency supports continuation of different use districts currently part of municipal zoning and in support of local planning objectives. The proposed new rules will allow for urban and village shoreland areas to continue as intensive use areas, as well as areas such as public beaches, marinas and access areas. The Agency intends to have any standards reflect and respond to site-specific considerations, both natural and related to existing development. Municipal zoning ordinances may include provisions such as development density, lot sizes, setback for roads and property boundaries, commercial districts etc, which H.526 does not replace. In addition, the bill currently allows any town that adopts shoreland and lake protection measures to continue to administer a shoreland program and the state rules would not apply to development in that town.

If this bill passes, will the shorelands be public?

No. the shoreland will still be private property and the bill does not mandate the public new access to the lake or shorelands.

What activities would trigger the need for a permit?

Changes to land use within 250 feet from the mean water level of a lake and any new or redevelopment of a property would require a permit.

If the property is currently undeveloped, the natural vegetation in the
   Lakeside Zone would be managed in such as way so as to provide water
   quality and lake habitat protection, and bank stability.

If a property is already developed, a new proposal would have to meet
   certain standards designed to not increase the impact on the lake. So for
   instance, a rebuild or addition would probably have to be to the side of
   or behind the existing buildings and not closer to the lake.

The rules could contain provisions for mitigation measures, for instance if a large addition 

    is  proposed, it could be allowed if mitigation measures such as runoff infiltration or increase 
    of  shoreline vegetation were incorporated.

Why doesn’t lawn count as a vegetated shoreline?

Lawns allow runoff from driveways and other developed lands to reach the lake with little infiltration or treatment. Lawns themselves also add phosphorus to runoff, even if they are not fertilized. In addition, grass provides poor shoreline stability and places with "lawn to lake" often experience shoreline erosion. Finally, lawns provide none of the critical benefits to the shallow water and wildlife habitat that trees along the shoreland do.

Wouldn’t state resources be better spent educating landowners?
As valuable as educating and informing the public is, relying completely on voluntary actions to protect Vermont’s lakes has been inadequate and would continue to be detrimental to the lakes. Both education and outreach and regulation are needed to truly protect Vermont lakes.

The state is not enforcing the current regulations we have, why should we introduce another regulation?
There will always be challenges with effective enforcement of state and municipal regulations. The state continues to address and improve enforcement issues. However, the threat to lakes from development that does not incorporate lake protection has reached a critical point: the benefit of having better guidelines clearly outweighs the potential issues with enforcement.

How can I see the lake if there are trees? I paid a lot of money for this property and want to be able to see the lake.

H.526 will adopt vegetation management standards that allow appropriate tree thinning and pruning so that views of the lake can be opened up through the vegetation. Paths to the water’s edge, a small clearing on the shore, and potentially construction of small accessory buildings will be allowed in the Lakeside Zone. Lakeside zone standards would allow some tree thinning and pruning of lower branches to open up a view. Landscape architects refer to this as "editing" the landscape. In fact, the presence of a vegetated protective zone may enhance the lake view by screening out other.

My camp is only [25] feet from the lake, will I have to move it back?
No. Existing camps, lawns etc in the Lakeside Zone will be "grandfathered" until a change in size and/or location is proposed. For instance, if an owner wanted to add an addition to a camp so it could be become a year-round home, the rules would allow a certain amount of expansion in the Lakeside or Shoreland Protective Zone, and may be able to offer "trade-offs" such as a larger expansion in exchange for adding runoff infiltration areas (e.g. rain gardens, and/or some planting or a no-mow area along the shore).

I have a lawn between my camp and the lake, will I have to stop mowing it, or will I have to plant trees?
No. Existing land uses such as lawns present when the bill is passed by the legislature will be allowed to continue. If a redevelopment or expansion is proposed, mitigating measures such as runoff infiltration or replanting along some of the shore could be used as part of the design to add in some lake protection measures to the proposal.

My lot is only 100 feet deep, will I be able to rebuild or repair my camp if needed?
Yes, rebuilding a structure of the same size would be allowed. Generally a rule would require that the building not be built closer to the lake than it was before.

My lot is only 100 feet deep, the "buffer" would cover the entire lot.
Existing small lots would be "grandfathered" and the standards would likely require that the rules be met to the extent possible if development or re-development is proposed. So for instance, the camp may be located 50 feet back from the shoreline in the case of an existing small lot.

I have a garden along the shore, will I have to remove it?
No. Existing land uses such as gardens present when the bill is passed by the legislature will be allowed to continue.

There is an old/dying tree on my shore, can I cut it down?
The agency intends to write rules that allow the removal of dead or dying trees that pose a threat to safety or structures.

Is it true I won’t be able to cut any trees in the Lakeside Zone?
No. H.526 will adopt vegetation management standards that allow thinning and pruning to open up views of the lake, allow paths, and a small clearing on the shore. The purpose of the natural vegetation is to protect water quality, habitat, and recreational values. However, this can be accomplished and still allow access to, views and use of the lake.

I was planning on retiring to my camp/lakeside home, will I still be able to do this?

Yes. The rules will not address how the building is used, just the size and location of it. If you renovate or rebuild on the same footprint you may not need a permit. If you want to expand it, you will likely be required to not "increase the degree of non-conformance," that is, not build any closer to the lake. A series of mitigating measures will be allowed as part of the review of proposals for small lots or lots with site considerations.

Would the shoreland regulation decrease the value of my property and home?
No. Though many people believe that having a house as close to the lake as possible and an expansive lawn contribute to lakeshore property values, water quality plays a more important role. Anything that protects water quality and the lake, such as shoreland vegetation and setback requirements, also protects property values. All the other New England states have shoreland regulations that include natural vegetation management standards.

Is it true we will not be able to install a new dock?
No, the bill does not change the way docks are currently regulated under the Shoreland Encroachment Program. Under that program, individual landowner can install a dock less than 500 square feet in size, as long as its not made out of concrete, masonry, earth or rock fill, sheet piling, bulkheading, cribwork or similar construction, and H.526 does not change that.

Vermont Agency of Natural Resources
Lakes and Ponds Management and Protection Section