Building a Luxury Lakefront Custom Built Home: Know Zoning Restrictions

Wisconsin is blessed with many natural resources, plentiful clean and unspoiled waterways being amongst the most prominent. The Lake Country area in Southeastern Wisconsin has long been a sought after destination for summer homes for prominent families residing in Milwaukee, Chicago and other urban settings. Over the past several decades with shifts in population centers, economic growth and lifestyle changes among Wisconsin residents, building and development trends on waterfront property geared towards more frequent waterway usage and year-round living opportunities provided the impetus for amending State regulations regarding zoning restrictions for shoreline protection and preservation.

While many waterfront properties in Southeastern Wisconsin have stayed within the same family for several years or even decades, how the land has been used and developed on these properties has evolved, warranting scrutiny to ensure that proper guidelines are in place. Zoning regulations have become more stringent in order to promote responsible use of the lands that border our lakes and streams to ensure the health and integrity of our waterways. The goal is to preserve clean water for recreational use, protect wildlife and preserve the natural beauty of shoreline habitats. Residents in the Lake Country area or new homeowners building their dream home with lakefront property should have a deep appreciation for these zoning restrictions as they will help preserve the precious and fragile natural water resources for generations to come.

  • According to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, areas subject to shoreland regulations include:
  • All land within 1000’ of lakes, ponds or flowages
  • All lands within 300’ of river or streams or the extent of the floodplain, whichever is greater
  • All shoreland areas in unincorporated areas
  • Only shoreland wetlands in cities or villages

Specific zoning restrictions may vary by county throughout Wisconsin, and either meet or exceed the state’s minimum standards for waterway protection. Shoreland zoning regulates land use and construction by providing guidelines for all aspects of property usage, including landscaping, renovations, and new structures. Very specific guidelines are provided for but not limited to the following:

  • Setbacks for structures from property lines and waterways
  • Lot size minimums
  • Shoreline vegetation maintenance
  • Earth moving activities
  • Septic systems and wells
  • Renovations of non-conforming structures

It is very important for new and existing lakefront homeowners to be familiar with the specific zoning regulations that apply to their property. It builds an awareness and appreciation for conservation of our valuable resources as well as provides a natural guideline for current and future property usage. Knowing limitations up front saves time, money and frustration for homeowners planning renovations or embarking on a new luxury custom lake home project.