Minnetonka's attempt to be a leader in championing water quality has met resistance from its waterfront homeowners.
About 250 residents turned out Tuesday night to oppose a new city shoreline ordinance aimed at protecting Minnetonka's 13 lakes and 9 miles of creeks.
Most objected to a provision that would require homeowners -- if they make major improvements to their homes -- to plant a 25-foot buffer of native grasses and plants between their lawn and the water.
Some residents said that amounts to the city taking their land.
"You will never forget having your property taken under whatever pretense,'' said resident B.J. Novotny.
The shoreline ordinance is one of three measures the city is considering to step up its protection of the natural environment in the face of development. A tree protection ordinance and a slope protection ordinance are also moving toward council approval early next year.
The shoreline ordinance would put Minnetonka ahead of the state in requiring waterfront buffers, just as the city was a pacesetter in adopting wetland protection measures before the state put them in place.
The filtering shoreline buffers are encouraged -- but not yet required -- by the state Department of Natural Resources as a way to keep chemicals, grass clippings and dog droppings out of lakes and streams.
"What Minnetonka is trying to do would be highly thought of by a lot of people in this state,'' said Dale Humuth, regional hydrologist for the DNR.
Humuth said environmentalists are pushing for the water quality protection and predicted it won't be long before the state passes legislation requiring all cities to put in shoreline buffer zones.
But Minnetonka residents objected Tuesday to their city getting ahead of the pack and telling them what they must do on their own land.
U.S. Republican Rep. Jim Ramstad, a lakeshore property owner in Minnetonka, joined the opposition with a letter to the city noting that no surrounding suburbs are considering such an ordinance and urging Minnetonka to leave water quality protection to the DNR and other agencies charged with that job.
In Minnetonka, residents rank care of the natural environment as a top priority, and some residents privately have urged the city on, said City Manager John Gunyou. But at the large public gathering at the Community Center, the clear message was that the buffers had to go.
"We are definitely re-looking at it,'' Gunyou said. "In all cases we always try to strike a balance between individual rights and environmental protection.''
The question now is whether the city can drop the buffer requirement and adopt the rest of the ordinance or will have to start from scratch to draft a new ordinance that is acceptable to the DNR.
The DNR mandated that the city update its shoreline protection ordinance in 1990, then spent years negotiating a plan tailored to Minnetonka, Humuth said. The agency ultimately agreed in August to allow Minnetonka to have decks and patios closer to the water than other cities in return for Minnetonka's willingness to move ahead on the buffers.
If the buffers were dropped from the ordinance, the entire deal would have to be renegotiated, Humuth said.
The earliest the measure could come before the city council for action would be Jan. 28, Gunyou said.
Residents said they feared that putting in the natural buffers would devalue their property and make it more difficult to sell. Some said a 25-foot buffer would take their entire backyards. Several argued that the water in Gray's Bay -- Minnetonka's only frontage on Lake Minnetonka -- is already clean and would not benefit from the buffers.
The buffers reduce lawn mowing, draw hummingbirds and butterflies and block geese, said Carrol Henderson, supervisor of the DNR's non-game wildlife program.
"When you have lawns all the way to the water's edge, it is like an open invitation to the geese to come and walk and leave droppings all over the lawn.''
The agency offers a book, "Lakescaping for Wildlife and Water Quality,'' and a new CD called "Restore Your Shore" at www.Minnesotasbookstore. com.
As a result of public reaction to the ordinance, Gunyou said the city may turn to an education program to encourage residents to put the buffers in voluntarily.
Laurie Blake • 612-673-1711