A Tool for Protecting Lakes from High-Density Shoreland Development

Carol LeBreck, Eau Claire Lks Area POA, WAL, BCLF


An overlay district is a section of the Bayfield County Zoning Ordinance which applies only in the named town. Its provisions are administered and enforced by the county zoning department. The requirements of the overlay district must be more restrictive than the ordinance provisions it supersedes. Several towns have established overlay districts to protect critical natural resources and other purposes. The Town of Barnes established an overlay district to protect water quality and other values of its most important resource: the town’s numerous clear water lakes.

The Concern: The existing County Shoreland Zoning Ordinance that governs Multiple Unit Developments (MUD) and Conservation Subdivision Developments (CSD) allows up to three times the number of dwelling units on a parcel of land on a lake. As prime shoreline becomes scarce around lakes, expanses of less desirable and often more fragile frontage become attractive to developers, especially if the “incentive” to create increased density-development is available to them.

Taking Action: The Eau Claire Lakes Area Property Owners Association (POA) partnered with the Barnes Town Planning Commission and the Barnes Town Board, then worked in consultation with the County Zoning Department. Strong local support by the citizens of Barnes, several Bayfield County lake associations and the Bayfield County Lakes Forum helped make the Barnes Overlay become a reality by testifying at public hearings and writing letters of support.

The Result: The Barnes Overlay District became a formal part of the Bayfield County Zoning Ordinance in 2009, when the County Board approved a Town of Barnes resolution to adopt the overlay.

The Implications: In Barnes, Multiple Unit and Conservation Subdivision Developments —such as densely-clustered single-family homes, condominiums, hotels and motels—are now required to have the same amount of shoreline frontage per dwelling unit as everyone else on all classes of lakes. For example, 150 feet of frontage is required to build a single-family home on any Class 1 lake, such as Upper, Middle, or Lower Eau Claire Lakes. Therefore, the Barnes Overlay District now requires that a 4-unit motel or 4 single-family homes in a MUD or CS must have 600 feet of lake frontage. By comparison, under the existing County MUD and CS ordinance, which remains in effect for the rest of the towns in the county, the same 600 ft. frontage would allow up to 12 dwelling units.

The Town of Barnes Overlay District equalizes density of dwelling units and associated septic systems relative to frontage thereby protecting water quality, aquatic environments, ground water, and the aesthetics of the lakes.

For more information:  http://bayfieldcountylakes.org/?110950