Lakeshore Housing

Part of Stearns County’s unique quality is attributed to its lakes, rivers, creeks, and streams. These water features contribute to the County’s tourism, local economy, and ability to attract new residents. As a result, residential and recreational uses have developed along the lakes, especially along the Sauk River Chain of Lakes. This area includes some of the most intensive residential and recreational development in the County, with impacts on water quality and natural resources. Water bodies have limits for how much development can occur without degrading the very resource that attract development. Natural resource tourism is similarly faced with how to take advantage of the amenities that attract people without exceeding the capacity of the resource for development.


  1. Limit the impacts of additional shoreland development by clustering housing away from shorelines, using a conservation design approach.
  2. Encourage shoreland protection and restoration methods such as vegetative buffers.
  3. Discourage the alteration of natural shorelands and the creation of impervious surface in near shore areas.
  4. Address wastewater treatment and water quality problems through the County Water Plan, Watershed Districts, lake associations and other partnerships.
  5. Encourage implementation of innovative stormwater management practices into shoreland projects such as rain gardens, permeable surfaces and vegetative buffers.
  6. Expand mitigation requirements for projects requesting to vary from lake setbacks to preserve the riparian environment and reduce erosion to enhance the water quality.
  7. Evaluate lakeshore housing projects using the following as guidelines, in addition to the Comprehensive Plan’s Future Land Use Factors:
  8. The project preserves sight lines and does not negatively impact view sheds of adjacent properties.
  9. The project maintains the neighborhood’s residential character by promoting compatible land uses. Land uses that detract from this character should be addressed through site design improvements and mitigation measures.
  10. Create riparian standards that balance the interests of both year round and seasonal residents, while protecting the natural resources that draw them to lakeshore amenities.
Shoreland Alterations: Major shoreland alterations are granted by the County Board, if it determines there are no adverse environment impacts. The approval of a permit can also be subject to the property owner meeting specific conditions. For example, the applicant may be required to reduce the amount of shoreland being altered or apply best practices to mitigate environmental impacts.

The ordinance does not provide specific thresholds for when a permit may be denied for major applications. As a result, many permits are approved with conditions. Moving forward, the County will need to consider implementing stronger tools.

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