Stream, wetland buffers approved

Mayor John Stromberg cast a tie-breaking vote in favor of a new ordinance that would create buffer zones around streams and wetlands, despite lingering concerns that buildings that aren't in historic districts could not be rebuilt if they were destroyed by floods or other disasters.

On Tuesday night, Ashland City Councilors split 3-3 on a vote to approve the first reading of an ordinance that would create the buffer zones, setting the stage for Stromberg's tie breaker.

But like several councilors who voted for and against the ordinance, Stromberg said he wants city staff to come back with an ordinance revision to better protect the rights of property owners to rebuild. The council will consider those changes before it gives its final approval to the ordinance.

"Staff should bring this back to us solving the problem," Stromberg said.

As written, the ordinance allows buildings in areas zoned for residential use to be rebuilt if they are inside the stream and wetland buffers. Buildings that are outside residential zones and within historic districts could be rebuilt as well.

The ordinance lacks language that would allow for the reconstruction of buildings in non-residential zones that aren't also in historic districts.

Stromberg said if a natural disaster wiped out a building that was outside a residential district and a historic district, the city should not try to take advantage of the situation by banning reconstruction in order to return the land to a natural state.

The City Council has already examined the wetland and stream buffer zone rules over several meetings this year, and many changes have been made.

"I think the staff and council have done a really good job responding to community concerns," Councilor Eric Navickas said.

He voted with Stromberg and Councilors Kate Jackson and Greg Lemhouse in favor of the ordinance.

Councilors Carol Voisin, David Chapman and Russ Silbiger voted against the 34-page ordinance.

"I'm still unhappy with it not being user-friendly," said Voisin, noting that she lives along a stream.

If it wins final approval, the new ordinance would create buffer zones of up to 50 feet on either side of streams and up to 50 feet from the edge of wetlands.

Existing lawns could be maintained in the buffer zones, but existing lawns could not be expanded and new ones could not be planted.

In order to protect nesting birds, property owners would not be allowed to remove blackberry plants in the zones from May 1 through July 31.

They could 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 would have to lay down plywood or some other material to distribute the equipment's weight.

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

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

In the upland half of stream buffer zones, people could build new wire fences that don't obstruct flood waters and collect debris, as well as new porous patios — but not decks.

Construction of wire fences would be allowed throughout wetland buffer zones.

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 would have to show they lessened impacts through measures such as multi-story construction, minimal paved areas and buffer zone restoration.

The full text of the draft 34-page proposed ordinance on stream and wetland buffers is available at

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

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