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Introduced by Representatives Johnson of Canaan and Deen of Westminster

Referred to Committee on


Subject:  Conservation; zoning; waterfront buffers

Statement of purpose:  This bill proposes to require municipalities, beginning July 1, 2012, to establish 15‑foot vegetative buffer zones adjacent to the public waters of the state.  The bill would also require the water resources panel of the natural resources board to adopt rules regarding the size and use of buffer zones.


It is hereby enacted by the General Assembly of the State of Vermont:

Sec. 1.  10 V.S.A. § 1421 is amended to read:

§ 1421.  POLICY

To aid in the fulfillment of the state’s role as trustee of its navigable waters and to promote public health, safety, convenience, and general welfare, it is declared to be in the public interest to make studies, establish policies, make plans, make rules, require minimum municipal waterfront buffers, and authorize municipal shoreland zoning bylaws, all for the efficient use, conservation, development, and protection of the state’s water resources.  The purposes of the rules shall be to further the maintenance of safe and healthful conditions,; prevent and control water pollution; protect spawning grounds, fish and aquatic life; control building sites, placement of structures, and land uses,; preserve shore cover and natural beauty,; and provide for multiple use of the waters in a manner to provide for the best interests of the citizens of the state.

Sec. 2.  10 V.S.A. § 1422 is amended to read:


In this chapter, unless the context clearly requires otherwise:

(1)  “Agency” means the agency of natural resources;.

(2)  “Board” means water resources panel of the natural resources board;.

(3)  “Department” means department of environmental conservation;.

(4)  “Navigable water” or “navigable waters” means Lake Champlain, Lake Memphremagog, the Connecticut River, all natural inland lakes within Vermont, and all streams, ponds, flowages, and other waters within the territorial limits of Vermont, including the Vermont portion of boundary waters, which are boatable under the laws of this state;.

(5)  “Public shorelands” means state-owned lands adjacent to navigable waters;.

(6)  “Public waters” means navigable waters excepting those waters in private ponds and private preserves as set forth in sections 5204, 5205, 5206, and 5210 of this title;.

(7)  “Secretary” means the secretary of natural resources or the secretary’s duly authorized representative;.

(8)  “Shorelands” means the lands being between the normal mean water mark watermark of a lake, pond, or impoundment exceeding twenty 20 acres and a line not less than five hundred 500 feet nor more than one thousand 1,000 feet from such mean water mark watermark.

(9)  “Outstanding resource waters” mean waters of the state designated by the board as having exceptional natural, recreational, cultural, or scenic values.

(10)  “Buffer zone” means an area adjacent to public waters consisting of permanent, long-lived vegetative cover and which extends at least 10 feet from:

(A)  The natural high watermark for natural freshwater bodies and streams;

(B)  The limit of the flowage rights for artificially impounded freshwater bodies with established flowage rights, or

(C)  The waterline at full pond as determined by the elevation of the spillway crest for water bodies without established flowage rights.

Sec. 3.  10 V.S.A. § 1427 is added to read:


(a)  As of July 1, 2007, a municipality shall maintain a buffer zone of at least 15 feet along public waters of the state in which no development or uses not approved under the rules adopted under subsection (b) of this section shall occur. 

(b)  The board shall adopt rules to regulate the use of buffer zones bordering public waters by:

(1)  Defining those areas that may require a buffer zone in excess of 15 feet;

(2)  Defining the uses that may be conducted in buffer zones;

(3)  Regulating the conduct in buffer zones, including development, use of fertilizer, and types of approved recreational activities; and

(4)  Establishing standards that existing, nonconforming uses shall meet to reduce impact on public waters.

(c)  The board in establishing rules shall consider the public water adjacent to which the buffer is established, the predominant use of the adjacent public water, and predominant uses of the buffer zone and the adjacent public water.

(d)  The board shall attempt to manage buffer zones so that the various uses may be enjoyed in a reasonable manner, in the best interests of all the citizens of the state.  To the extent possible, the board shall provide for all normal uses.

Sec. 4.  10 V.S.A. § 8003(a) is amended to read:

(a)  The secretary may take action under this chapter to enforce the following statutes:

* * *

(17)  10 V.S.A. § 2625, relating to heavy cutting of timber; and

(18)  10 V.S.A. chapter 164, relating to comprehensive mercury management; and

(19)  10 V.S.A. § 1427, relating to minimum waterfront buffers.

Sec. 5.  24 V.S.A. § 4411 is amended to read:


(a)  A municipality may regulate land development in conformance with its adopted municipal plan and for the purposes set forth in section 4302 of this title to govern the use of land and the placement, spacing, and size of structures and other factors specified in the bylaws related to public health, safety, or welfare.  Zoning bylaws may permit, prohibit, restrict, regulate, and determine land development, including the following:

(1)  Specific uses of land and shoreland facilities, provided that such a bylaw conforms with section 1427 of Title 10 and any rules adopted thereunder;

* * *

(b)  All zoning bylaws shall apply to all lands within the municipality other than as specifically limited or exempted in accordance with specific standards included within those bylaws and in accordance with the provisions of this chapter.  The provisions of those bylaws may be classified so that different provisions may be applied to different classes of situations, uses, and structures and to different and separate districts of the municipality as may be described by a zoning map made part of the bylaws.  The land use map required pursuant to subdivision 4382(a)(2) of this title of any municipality may be designated as the zoning map except in cases in which districts are not deemed by the planning commission to be described in sufficient accuracy or detail by the municipal plan land use map.  All provisions shall be uniform for each class of use or structure within each district, except that additional classifications may be made within any district for any or all of the following:

* * *

(3)  To regulate, restrict, or prohibit uses or structures at or near any of the following:

* * *

(B)  Natural or artificial bodies of water, provided that such additional classifications conform with section 1427 of Title 10 and any rules adopted thereunder.

* * *

(G)  Flood or other hazard areas and other places having a special character or use affecting or affected by their surroundings, provided that such additional classifications conform with section 1427 of Title 10 and any rules adopted thereunder.

(4)  To regulate, restrict, or prohibit uses or structures in overlay districts, as set forth in subdivision 4414(2) of this title.

Sec. 6.  24 V.S.A. § 4414(1)(D) is amended to read:

(D)  Shorelands.

(i)  A municipality may, subject to the requirements of section 1427 of Title 10 and any rules adopted thereunder, adopt bylaws to regulate shorelands as defined in section 1422 of Title 10 to prevent and control water pollution; preserve and protect wetlands and other terrestrial and aquatic wildlife habitat; conserve the scenic beauty of shorelands; minimize shoreline erosion; reserve public access to public waters; and achieve other municipal, regional, or state shoreland conservation and development objectives.

(ii)  Shoreland bylaws may, subject to the requirements of section 1427 of Title 10 and any rules adopted thereunder, regulate the design and maintenance of sanitary facilities; regulate filling of and other adverse alterations to wetlands and other wildlife habitat areas; control building location; require the provision and maintenance of vegetation; require provisions for access to public waters for all residents and owners of the development; and impose other requirements authorized by this chapter.

Sec. 7.  24 V.S.A. § 4424 is amended to read:


Any municipality may adopt freestanding bylaws under this chapter to address particular areas in conformance with the plan, including the following, which may also be part of zoning or unified development bylaws:

(1)  Bylaws to regulate development and use along shorelands, provided that such a bylaw conforms with section 1427 of Title 10 and any rules adopted thereunder.

(2)  Bylaws to regulate development and use in flood or other hazard areas, provided that such a bylaw conforms with section 1427 of Title 10 and any rules adopted thereunder.  The following shall apply if flood or other hazard area bylaws are enacted:

* * *


(a)  This section and Secs. 1 (policy), 2 (definitions), 3 (minimum waterfront buffers), and 4 (agency of natural resources enforcement authority) shall take effect July 1, 2007.

(b)  Secs. 5 (zoning bylaws), 6 (municipal shoreland bylaws), and 7 (municipal shoreland zoning) shall take effect July 1, 2012.

Published by:

The Vermont General Assembly
115 State Street
Montpelier, Vermont