City OKs stream, wetland buffers

The City Council approved a new ordinance creating protective buffer zones around streams and wetlands.

The council voted Tuesday to approve the ordinance, which would allow buildings in commercial zones and in historic districts to be rebuilt if they are destroyed. That aspect of the ordinance protects buildings like those on the downtown plaza.

But buildings in commercial zones outside historic districts can't automatically be rebuilt. Instead, reconstruction plans would have to go through the planning process and applicants would have to try and find a place on the property to rebuild that is outside stream and wetland buffer zones.

Eight buildings in town — including the Albertson's grocery store that intrudes into the newly created buffer around Hamilton Creek — couldn't be rebuilt in a way that still intrudes on the buffers.

City Councilor Eric Navickas said the new ordinance will help protect streams and wetlands. In voting for the ordinance, he said compromises have been made to allow some reconstruction while also protecting the environment.

"I think we did a good job of addressing community concerns," Navickas said.

Councilor Greg Lemhouse also voted for the ordinance, although he said he still had concerns about the rights of people who can't automatically rebuild because they own commercial buildings that aren't in historic districts.

"They should be able to be made whole in the event of a disaster," he said.

The new law creates buffer zones of up to 50 feet on either side of streams and up to 50 feet from the edge of wetlands.

Existing lawns can be maintained in the buffer zones, but existing lawns can't be expanded and new ones can't be planted.

In order to protect nesting birds, property owners can't remove blackberry plants in the zones from May 1 through July 31.

They can use power equipment that weighs more than 100 pounds — such as riding lawnmowers — during the drier months of May through October to minimize soil disturbance, but have to lay down plywood or some other material to distribute the equipment's weight.

Existing agricultural practices, such as cutting hay with tractors, can continue if those things were done prior to the adoption of the ordinance.

Landowners can cut or thin vegetation to reduce fire risk as long as the work is the minimum necessary to alleviate fire hazards.

People can build electric fences that don't collect flood debris, but not chain link fences. Porous patios are allowed — but not decks.

If the buffer rules make it difficult or impossible to develop a lot, buffers could be reduced by up to 50 percent through a land use process.

People who want to build inside buffers will have to show they lessened impacts through measures such as multi-story construction, minimal paved areas and buffer-zone restoration.

Staff writer Vickie Aldous can be reached at 479-8199 or

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