Setback Requirements FAQ

Questions listed here are typical questions on any given day. The answers provided are the "short version" in many cases. More complete explanations can be found elsewhere on the site or by contacting the zoning office.
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Setbacks – what are they?

Setbacks are the minimum required distances between a structure and property lines, the ordinary high water mark of navigable waters, road rights-of-ways and between structures. Different setback requirements are established for different types of buildings and different zoning districts. Contact the County zoning with specific setback questions.

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Where are setbacks measured from?

Setbacks for structures are measured from the foundation wall or exterior building wall. Roof overhangs can only extend two feet into the allowed building setback. Most structures are measured to lot lines. Front lot lines are the same as the road right of way line. Measurements are never taken from the centerline of the road. Shoreline measurements are taken from the ordinary high water mark, never from the water’s edge.

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How close to the water can I build?

The waters edge is not used to measure the setback. The standard setback from any navigable body of water for new construction is 75 feet and is measured from the ordinary high water mark as established by either the zoning office or DNR. This setback is used for all new construction, additions and such things as fences, decks, and patios.

There are some mechanisms in place that may allow a structure to be built closer than 75 feet to the water, such as setback averaging or a variance where appropriate. Setback averaging of like structures on the two immediate adjacent lots may be used in some instances, but is limited to a minimum setback of 50 feet from the ordinary high water mark. Variances require a public hearing and can only be approved if the property and structure meet certain statutory requirements. In these cases, what is being built must be designed to have the least encroachment into the shore yard setback as possible.

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Setback averaging – what is it?

Setback averaging allows reduced setbacks from the Ordinary High Water Mark (shore yard) or from the road right-of-way by measuring the like structures on the two immediate adjacent lots.

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How do I measure from the water?

First of all, setbacks are never measured from the water. They are measured from the Ordinary High Water Mark as determined by Zoning Office staff or the DNR.

The measurements are taken from the closest point of the structure to the closest point of the Ordinary High Water Mark (OHWM)—even if that point is on a neighbor’s property. The OHWM is also measured from boatslips (even water inside a boathouse) or from indentations along the shoreline.

You cannot draw a straight line from the houses on either side of your lot and use that to establish the reduced setback.