Sunday, July 19, 2015

A few quick tips for building, buying or renovating your home on the lake - By Emily Mottram

Some of you may know that the shore land zoning regulations changed in 2015, although the document is long and written like most municipal code, so it’s hard to understand and lengthy.  But here are a few key points from the questions I get asked most often.

1.      First you need to check to see if your property has already taken advantage of the 30 percent expansion. This can be found at your local building department and will encompass any renovations to a home that is built within 100 feet of the high water line of the lake since January 1, 1989. 

2.      The 2015 rules have done away with the 30 percent volume rule. Depending on the location of the house in relation to the lake, if you can build another story without expanding the footprint of the building and stay under the height restriction, it will not count towards your 30 percent expansion. 

3.      The height restrictions are as follows:
a.       Less then 25’ from the lake 15’ height restriction
b.      Less than 75’ from the lake 20’ height restriction
c.       Less than 100’ from the lake 25’ height restriction

4.      The 30 percent expansion now applies only to square footage, but they have added additional allowances to help with smaller buildings. Now it’s 30 percent of the existing footprint, including decks or 1,000 square feet total within 75 feet of the lake or 1,500 square feet total between 75 feet and 100 feet.
5.      Repair and maintenance – the DEP states that it “allows normal upkeep and maintenance of non-conforming uses and structures including repairs or renovations that do not involve expansion of non-conforming use or structure, and such other changes in a non-conforming use or structure as federal, state, or local building and safety codes may require.

However, you will still need to contact your local code enforcement officer to obtain permits necessary to proceed with repair and maintenance. All towns are different and it is important to verify what you need to do with your code officer prior to starting any work.

6.      Although the restrictions are much more stringent for homes that are less than 100 feet from the lake, the DEP and town will regulate any structures within 250 feet of the lake. Also, if you live on Sebago Lake, you will be subject to inspections by the Portland Water District who also has jurisdiction over the water quality of Sebago Lake. 

7.      You must have a permit and permission to remove any trees along the lake.

8.      You can not build any closer to the lake, so if your only place for expansion is towards the lake, you will be an unlikely candidate for expansion. This includes decks, patios, driveways and structures. 

9.      More than likely, you cannot add an in-law apartment to your property. Most of the zoning surrounding the lake does not allow in-law or second dwelling units on the same property. This is very important to check your local zoning and touch base with the code enforcement officer before adding any type of cooking elements as a secondary unit in your home. 

10.  The lowest floor elevation for any structure needs to be 1 foot above the flood plain. So if your home is close to the lake, you will need to have an elevation certificate done by a qualified surveyor to locate the flood plain before expanding your home. This may mean that your new addition is on piers, instead of a basement, which may make a new expansion complicated.

So, if you are considering buying a lake house, or renovating your existing home, we highly recommend speaking with a professional about what you will be allowed to do with the property. It is important for Maine to keep the quality of our lake water good since it is the source of much of the states drinking water. Although the restrictions are challenging, they keep our lakes healthy and our drinking water clean.
If you’re interested in reading the current Shore Land Zoning Regulations for Maine, you can find the full document here at DEP Chapter 1000 Guidelines for Municipal Shoreland Zoning Ordinances.

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