Zoning Amendment Frequently Asked Questions

Background and Problem Statement

West Hill Pond is deep, holds a large amount of water proportional to its surface area, and has a small watershed. The net effect is that it takes five years to “flush” all the water out of the lake and replace it. This long water residence time makes West Hill Pond vulnerable to nutrient and sediment inputs. When the native vegetation of the watershed is removed and the natural hydrology impacted, soils and nutrients are transported from the landscape to the lake. These nutrients – phosphorus especially – become available to fuel growth of blue-green algae and other phytoplankton. Blue-green algae (cyanobacteria) creates cyanotoxins – a class of toxins implicated in neurodegenerative diseases such as Lou Gehrig’s, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease – the presence of which have led to beach closures on lakes throughout CT over recent summers. The WHPA sampled blue-green algae (cyanobacteria) for the first time in West Hill Pond last summer, though not yet at a level our limnologist felt required limiting recreation. West Hill has a record of consistent increase of phosphorus to levels that suggest we may be at a tipping point with respect to algae blooms and especially cyanobacteria.

Our scientists and engineers suggest that limiting transport of soil and nutrients from the landscape to the lake requires at least implementing the following recommendations:

  • Establish a Shoreland Protection Zone for all land surrounding the lake to a distance of 250 feet from the lake edge.
  • West Hill Pond drainage basin should have LID (and Stormwater Planning) incorporated into all aspects of flowage and landscaping over the whole of the watershed.

More can be read in Dr. George Knoecklein’s annual State of the Lake Report.

The proposed amendments are the Town’s effort to meet the recommendations of the experts.

Possible Questions and Answers

The town has zoning requirements and West Hill Pond is not exempted from those requirements, so we don’t need more requirements to protect the lake.
Unfortunately the current criteria (and these apply town wide) that require a project to have a storm-water plan would require less than 20% of the lakefront properties to develop a plan. Limnologists and Engineers advising the Town feel that every property in the watershed should have a plan when considering permitted projects. This way the natural hydrology is taken into consideration minimizing damaging impacts to water quality. For more on how the current Zoning Regulations fail to protect the lake see this chart.

Why doesn’t lawn count as a native plant vegetated shoreline?
Lawns allow runoff from driveways and other developed lands to reach the lake with little infiltration or treatment. Lawns themselves also add phosphorus to runoff, even if they are not fertilized. In addition, grass provides poor shoreline stability and places with “lawn to lake” often experience shoreline erosion. Finally, lawns provide none of the critical benefits to the shallow water and wildlife habitat that trees along the shoreline do. The saying “lakes like less lawn” applies.

How can I see the lake if there are trees? I paid a lot of money for this property and want to be able to see the lake.
These are zoning regulations so they are enforced through the stormwater plan which allows you to define the areas of shoreline buffer when planning a development. If you are not planning a development, the regulations do not apply. To best protect your investment and value of your land, consider that natural woodlands contribute only 10% of the amount of phosphorus that driveways and lawn contribute to the lake. Plus, there are many native plants that not only allow a view over the plant, but provide stunning displays of flowers. Plants such as Mountain Laurel (the CT State Flower) are an excellent choice.

I have a lawn between my house/cottage and the lake, will I have to stop mowing it, or will I have to plant trees?
No. Existing land uses such as lawns present when the regulation is passed will be allowed to continue. If a redevelopment or expansion is proposed, mitigating measures such as runoff infiltration or replanting along some of the shore could be used as part of the design to add in some lake protection measures to the proposal. Remember that Lakes like less lawn, so if you have the opportunity to reduce lawn, the lake (and your neighbors) will be thankful.

I am planning some development, who is qualified to prepare this Stormwater Plan?
If you are developing a house, with new septic and well, many if not most professional engineers and architects you might hire for that work are qualified to produce a stormwater plan. There are professional engineers that specialize in low impact development in sensitive watersheds and either the Town or the WHPA can help provide you with names. Often, landscape architects and designers will work with an professional engineer to provide you “one-stop-shop” options for development.

My lot is only 75 feet deep, the “buffer” would cover the entire lot, and even a small addition on the back would be within the buffer.
The proposed regulation only applies to new development. The standards might require that the rules be met to the extent possible if development or re-development is proposed.

I have a garden along the shore, will I have to remove it?
No. The proposed regulation only applies to new development. Were changes proposed, you would need to show how you would integrate the existing garden with a buffer of native plantings.

There is an old/dying tree on my shore, can I cut it down?
This is a zoning regulation for new development. Healthy trees and native vegetation promote stormwater infiltration and retention of nutrients. Removing a dead or dying tree and replacing that with plants that can accomplish the goals of stormwater retention is a prudent activity. But the regulation does not prevent removal of a dead tree.

I was planning on retiring to my cottage/lakeside home, will I still be able to do this?
Yes. There is no impact if you propose no development or changes to your property. The zoning regulations merely require a planning process for redevelopment which should represent no impediment to development if you can accommodate the stormwater requirements in your planning.

Will this regulation decrease the value of my property or make it harder to sell?
No. Though many people believe that having a house as close to the lake as possible and an expansive lawn contribute to lakeshore property values, water quality plays a more important role. Anything that protects water quality and the lake, such as shoreline vegetation and setback requirements, also protects property values. All the other New England states have shoreland regulations that include natural vegetation management standards.

Is it true we will not be able to install a new dock?
No, the proposed regulation does not prevent designing and building a dock, though it sets standards for how that is done. Currently any dock work would require an Inland Wetlands Permit and that will still be required. The proposed regulation requires new docks to be floating and temporary. Many newly designed docks on West Hill Pond already meet these requirements since floating docks have been found to promote the flow of water along the shore with many benefits.

Will I be able to build a concrete or stone bulkhead the width of my shoreline? What harm does a bulkhead do?
Unlikely the Inland Wetland’s Commission would approve such an approach even with today’s regulations. These regulations do not impact the Inland Wetland Regulations, but they specifically prevent development of a concrete dock or bulkhead. Bulkheads do not contribute to the energy adsorption of waves as do natural shorelines resulting in waves that can cause erosion. They also impact the shoreline ecology which can be deleterious to fish habitat and reproduction.

If those homeowners that currently have bulkheads or more than one dock are contributing to degradation of the lake, will they be required to remove them?
Existing docks will not be required to be removed under these zoning regulation. Repair or replacement would go before the Inland Wetlands Commission and would be reviewed “business as usual” at that time. Hopefully people will understand the benefits gained by creating and maintaining structures that protect lake water quality, and will voluntarily make the changes themselves.

Aren’t there cheaper and better ways to kill cyanobacteria or remove phosphorus which would allow me to keep my big lawn?
Chemicals used to kill aquatic plants and algae are toxic chemicals and typically require closing the lake for any recreational activity for several days during application. Many people are opposed to using toxic chemicals to control nuisance weeds and algae. A significant number of homeowners on West Hill Pond still draw water from the lake for household use and would have no alternative water supply during application. Chemicals only kill the plants and algae and don’t remove the nutrients, so the plants and algae return almost immediately. Some lake managers recommend use of Alum for the precipitation of phosphorus. We received an estimate of approximately a half million dollars to treat the lake … and not all Limnologists believe Alum treatments are entirely safe.

What kind of driveway is pervious, and can it be plowed?
There are times when a natural gravel and moss driveway may not provide the attributes a homeowner seeks. Pervious pavements (that allow water to pass through as opposed to running off) allow a homeowner to have a paved driveway surface, while precipitation (which collect air deposited nutrients) infiltrate on site, close to where it falls. There are many approaches to creating pervious pavement including pavers and special permeable asphalt. The permeable asphalt has the benefit of quickly draining snowmelt in winter before it can become ice. So in some ways, pervious pavement can be an advantage over impermeable asphalt when trying to create a safe driveway. Pervious pavements are best used as part of a stormwater plan that provides for an integrated approach to stormwater management. The goal with the proposed amendments is to reduce the impervious surfaces in the West Hill watershed.