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Ottertail seeks to shore up city's Shoreland Ordinance

At a public hearing May 19, the city of Ottertail took a preliminary step in working toward developing a comprehensive zoning ordinance for the city.

Discussion primarily centered around differences between the city's existing Shoreland Ordinance and the Shoreland Ordinance Otter Tail County has adopted. Ottertail city attorney Terry Karkela outlined several significant differences between the city and county ordinances at the public hearing.

Ottertail city's current Shoreland Ordinance was last updated on February 5, 1992, with the county's corresponding ordinance having been updated several times since then. The county's most recent Shoreland Management Ordinance was adopted on May 1, 2008.

Much of Ottertail city within 1,000 feet of lakes

One of the more unique aspects of the city of Ottertail is that a substantial portion of the city is within 1,000 feet of a lake--the distance in which the Shoreland Ordinance goes into effect. Because of this, Karkela recommended that the council consider making one ordinance that covers the entire city. Instead of simply being classified as the city's Shoreland Ordinance, this comprehensive ordinance would really be a more inclusive Zoning Ordinance that applies to the entire city.

With this type of Zoning Ordinance, the city would no longer face the difficulty of determining whether or not people who want to do something on their property are within 1,000 feet of Donald Lake, or Portage Lake, or Otter Tail Lake, and so on.

The changes Karkela suggested the city adopt from the county's Shoreland Ordinance include several definitions that require updating and clarification.

"The county changed a number of their definitions in the ordinance," he said. "I recommend that we change our definitions to be consistent with theirs."

For example, Ottertail city's current ordinance refers to decks being made of wood. Karkela suggested changing the wording of this requirement so that it includes other materials that decks are made of these days. Aligning the city's definitions with the county's also makes sense from an enforcement standpoint.

Other differences between the city and county ordinances include items such as minimum non-platted lot sizes. According to Karkela, "The county ordinance was revised to provide that non-platted lots shall be a minimum of 5 acres instead of the 2.5 acres permitted by the city."

The county also requires people building on new lots to allow space for two separate on-site septic systems to be installed on the property. The city of Ottertail does not currently require this.

The city council concluded the public hearing with a decision to send Karkela's recommendations to the city planning committee for review. The Ottertail Planning Committee, which meets once a month, will be responsible for suggesting to the council the changes they believe the city should adopt.

As Karkela explained, his role in outlining the differences between the city and county ordinances was to suggest changes he believes would be beneficial for the city to incorporate from a legal standpoint. It is ultimately up to the planning committee, and then the city council, to decide the more policy-oriented changes--which will effect how the city will look and operate.

Guest houses, water access, resorts among ordinance revisions

The city's requirements for guesthouses, back lots, controlled accesses, impervious surfaces, and resorts will be the types of issues that the planning committee will be asked to look at. After the policy decisions have been made, the city of Ottertail will then need to incorporate other decisions and provisions they would like to make into a complete, specifically-designed ordinance.

"Once you get this comprehensive document done, there are a whole lot of other documents you can get rid of," advised Karkela. By combining several ordinances into one, the city can get rid of a lot of unnecessary, and admittedly verbose, guidelines they are currently following.

Goal is one, comprehensive ordinance for city

This comprehensive ordinance would cover all zoning issues, incorporating the city's existing sign/fence ordinance, the ordinance regulating parking/storing of recreational vehicles, and the sexually oriented business ordinance.

"We really need one document," agreed city councilman Don Patrick. Patrick mentioned how it's important not only for the city council, but also for the public because it makes the city's ordinances easier to understand.