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Tips for purchasing and building on shoreland property
Whether you plan to build the home of your dreams or simply a weekend getaway, you’ll have lots of decisions ahead of you.
Before you buy
Check out the local zoning ordinances at City Hall or the County Planning and Zoning Office.
- Is your intended use permitted in the land use district?
- Will the building setbacks from shorelines and roads allow you to build in your preferred location?
- Are there activities present or allowed in the area that may be undesirable to you?
- You may need permits for a driveway, installing a sewage treatment system, building any structure, impacting a wetland, or clearing the land for future development. Meet with your County Planning and Zoning Office to discuss which permits you’ll need.
- Know your legal description, where your property lines are, and the exact lot dimensions.
- Find out if utilities are available at the site and check with the local utility companies for service requirements: electricity, sewage, phone, etc.
- Meet with a well driller to determine your options for drinking water.
- If you have an existing well, have the water tested to evaluate quality for problems such as harmful bacteria or nitrates.
- Plan roads and driveways to follow the contours of the land to keep the driveway as level as possible and minimize erosion.
- Avoid steep slopes, wetland areas, and natural watercourses for safer roads with less negative impact to natural resources.
- Leave room for snow removal, and plan how you’ll get into and out of your driveway in slippery conditions.
- Make sure your contractor develops and follows an erosion and sediment control plan to minimize the harmful effects of sediment (dirt) leaving your site.
- To avoid soil compaction and damage to vegetation, flag areas that need to be off-limits to construction equipment such as sewage treatment systems, natural watercourses, trees, and wetlands.
- Minimize hard surfaces, such as driveways, so rain can infiltrate naturally into the ground. Direct runoff to vegetated areas and consider developing a rain garden to treat runoff and add beauty to your property.
Evaluate your land
Many potential problems that impact lake and shoreline can be avoided by taking time to carefully look around your property, see what’s there, and think about how your home or cabin will fit into the lake environment.
- Draw a detailed map of your property (to scale). Include the required building, road, and shoreland setbacks (from your meeting with the Planning and Zoning Office).
- Note these important features:
- Potential location of sewage treatment sites (you’ll need two)
Note: Determining appropriate sites will require meeting with a local septic system installer for an on-site analysis and cost estimate. This should be done before you locate your building site or construct a driveway.
- Potential building sites (level, dry, good access, good views, within setback requirements)
- Location of existing roads and driveways (or potential driveway)
- Areas less suitable for a home site or driveway, such as natural drainages (streams, swales, or intermittent waterways) or other features (wetlands, rock outcrops, hills, or steep slopes)
- Existing water wells
- Underground or overhead utilities (wires, cables, pipelines)
- Existing vegetation and valuable trees
- Wildlife habitat, such as food sources, nesting cover, or shoreline vegetation
- Plan for your driveway and turn-around to meet minimum access requirements for emergency vehicles.
- Consider limiting the amount of lawn on your property. Native vegetation will require less maintenance while enhancing aesthetics, wildlife habitat, and water quality.
- Retain natural vegetation within the Shoreland Impact Zone along your lake or river. Your county Planning and Zoning Office can provide you with the shoreland ordinances that have specific instructions on how to maintain this zone.
- Dead trees that have fallen in the water should be left in place to reduce shoreline erosion and provide habitat for fish and wildlife.
- To provide view corridors from windows and decks, selected trees can be removed or branches can be trimmed.
- Take care of your septic system: see the BMPs below on care and maintenance.
Shoreland best management practices
Best Management Practices (BMPs) are actions you can take to reduce your impact on the environment.
Maintain your septic system properly to avoid health risks.
When using the waterfront for recreation, make sure your activities do not cause lasting damage to the shoreline or water.
Whether you are landscaping your property, building a cabin, or designing a large resort, each land parcel has limitations for development.
With more shoreline than California, Florida, and Hawaii combined, Minnesota is bound to have areas where shoreland erosion is a problem.
Lawns and gardens near shorelands must be carefully planned and maintained to prevent contamination of surface waters.
Whether your woodlot is five acres or 100 acres, managing it can require road building, timber harvesting, and mechanical site preparation.
Trees and shrubs are an excellent inexpensive and attractive way to control runoff and erosion.
Rainfall and snow melt running off farmland or seeping into the ground can carry pollution from animal waste and excess nitrogen used to fertilize crops into lakes and streams.
Think twice before buying household cleaning and maintenance products.
Invasive species (organisms that have been introduced into areas where they are not native) are considered to be among the most severe agents of habitat alteration and degradation.
Information and assistance are available from many public agencies and organizations that work in partnership with shoreland property owners, lake associations, public officials, and private enterprises to protect water quality.
A summary of best management practices from the entire series.
Reducing our use of water will decrease water pollution, increase energy savings, and create more efficient use of our water resources.