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Pending law changes affect development

River Falls' law pertaining to development near shorelines -- in this case the Kinnickinnic River and Lake George -- will change a bit if City Council approves proposed, new language.

The words specifically address development within the downtown overlay district, through which the Kinni happens to run.

In council's documents, the issue is defined, "Should the ordinance provide for additional flexibility to the location of development within the downtown overlay district, and if so, how?"

The changed ordinance keeps the same 75-foot river buffer, though buffer distance depends on how the river slopes on a property. The steeper the grade, the farther back the buffer is.

Language in the law also says the buffer gets measured from the "ordinary high water mark" (100-year flood plain) instead of from the "edge of the stream bank."

The proposed changes also allow for development or redevelopment within the buffer zone, but only if the plan includes measures to divert or filter at least half of any new storm-water runoff the development creates.

"The shoreline (and flood plain protection) ordinance is essentially to protect the river and its tributaries," explained Community Development and Planning Director Buddy Lucero.

He said the changes are designed both to protect the river and enable development where it has not been possible before. River Falls adopted the existing ordinance in 2003 when development began approaching the river.

Lucero said in the downtown business area under the current regulations, there is sometimes difficulty redeveloping property because the shoreline-buffer area encompasses land along Main Street and Lake George.

He said the city can declare the buffer to be as far away as 175 feet, but after an environmental task force reviewed the possibilities, it recommended leaving it at 75 feet.

Lucero gave a local example: From the corner of Maple Street/Riverwalk to the river is about 75 feet.

"What this does, it allows you to develop in some of the buffer by providing a storm water management plan," he said.

For example: If a downtown business wants to make changes that add impervious surfaces - like a paved area or roofed structure - it would need to develop a plan for catching at least half the rainwater that would run off those surfaces.

The idea is for that water not to carry undesirable particles into the river. Rain gardens, retention ponds, grassy areas and other techniques can help clean the water.

"There are ways to filter it before it gets to the river," he said.

According to Lucero, runoff averages can be calculated by looking at the surfaces, much like a rain gauge measures rainfall.

He mentions a new paving technique he's seen recently, a new type of permeable concrete that filters water through to the ground. It could be a big help with storm water management.

He says the proposed ordinance changes up for a council vote will protect the river, maintain state and county standards and allow downtown businesses flexibility if they're in the buffer zone.

"One of the things we want to do is enable businesses to improve their building," he said.

Reach Debbie Griffin at or 426-1048.