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Crystal Lake Watershed Overlay District

Benzie County adopted the Crystal Lake Watershed Overlay District (CLWOD) ordinance in 1994. Now administered by Benzonia, Crystal Lake, and Lake townships and the village of Beulah, this forward-looking action established special uniform zoning regulations that transcend the standard political boundaries defining the several townships within the Crystal Lake watershed. These restrictions have exerted a powerful impact on lakeside land use in the following decades, mitigating development’s harmful effects on the lake and its surroundings.

The purpose of the ordinance is “to protect the environmental quality of Crystal Lake, the Crystal Lake shoreline, and the Crystal Lake Watershed through appropriate land use and design regulations.” It governs activities such as residential and commercial construction, private road building, land use, onsite waste disposal, and landscaping. Many of its provisions are more restrictive than conventional zoning.

In general, regulations within the CLWOD emphasize the preservation of natural vegetation and mature forest, and limit building on steep slopes. It aims to reduce erosion and polluting runoff, preserve aquatic wildlife habitat and wetlands, and conserve natural beauty and open space. It establishes guidelines for lot sizes, impervious surfaces, and setbacks from the lakeshore, and prohibits certain highly polluting land uses, such as gas stations, slaughterhouses, and some industries. Mowed lawns adjacent to the shoreline are strongly discouraged.

In 2016 the CLWA Zoning and Land Use committee will begin to review the CLWOD ordinance to determine whether updates are needed to meet 21st century needs for preserving and protecting the unique Crystal Lake environment. They welcome your input and participation!