Superior’s Plan Commission is recommending the City Council adopt new water quality and wetland protection standards as part of the city’s zoning regulations.
Unlike state and federal laws, the ordinance establishes setbacks from waterways to protect water quality and prevent erosion.
The supplemental regulations were created to protect watersheds wholly or partially in the city and would establish 50-foot buffer zones on bluffs and around waterways and wetlands where development would not be allowed to happen and where native vegetation would remain undisturbed or would be required to be replanted if it were disturbed.
“We do have an appeal process with this that we’re going to be setting up,” said Jason Serck, economic development, port and planning director. “If there are some extenuating circumstances like Barker’s Island … where they can’t meet the setbacks, there will be an appeal process for that.”
The Plan Commission would hear the appeal and make a recommendation to the Council on whether the standard should be modified on a case-by-case basis.
“I kind of feel like if it’s going to meet the ordinance, that is fine, but if it’s going to exceed it, there should be some guidance from the bodies,” Serck said.
“I’m actually OK with this almost everywhere — most creeks, most rivers, most areas along the bay,” Commissioner Brian Finstad said. “I just think most cities need to have sort of those entertainment district areas where being on the water is cool.”
Finstad said there should be some districts carved out for waterfront entertainment, such as the slips at the north end of Tower Avenue or Barker’s Island, where development could take place closer to the water.
“I think any development that is going to be near water is going to come under a lot of scrutiny,” Serck said. “I get what you’re saying. I would rather take them on a case-by-case basis.”
Mayor Jim Paine said caution should be used with waterfront development.
“There’s a lot of ‘be careful what you wish for’ with that because there could be a lot of unintended consequences,” Paine said.
The ordinance does allow for bank stabilization and other methods to protect water quality.
“I just don’t want the appeals to be heard through the lens of a hardship,” Finstad said.
Paine said when he thinks of the more successful waterfront developments, such as Canal Park in Duluth and the Confluence Center in Eau Claire, they aren’t built “on the water.”
“There are a lot of ways to experience being on a shoreline with violating these buffers,” Paine said.
Finstad said he’s fine with hearing the appeals on a case-by-case basis; he just doesn’t want an appeal to be reviewed as if a hardship would be the main determinant of whether the development would be allowed closer to the water.
“I would think an appeal process, if done fairly and ethically, I would have no problem with that,” Councilor Jack Sweeney said. “I think we should do them on a case-by-case basis. I think that’s far more fair, far more protective.”