We often get asked about zoning restrictions when it comes to lakefront property. Any lake or pond in Massachusetts is considered a “wetland” and therefore falls under the Wetlands Protection Act. Each town has its own interpretation of this Law and you (or your agent) need to find out the particulars of the home you are considering. There are some general guidelines:
- The Conservation Commission will want to know of ANTHING you are doing on your property that is within 100 feet of the water. This includes building a structure or pulling a weed out of the ground. Some communities can go up to 200 or 300 feet. This is usually measured from the “high water line” delineated by a qualified surveyor.
- All local town zoning restrictions and setbacks will apply and you can get copies of these at the town building department. Often, a variance will be needed to build anything outside of these restrictions. This is always a roll of the dice. It is suggested that you make “approval” of any immediate plans a contingency on the Offer to Purchase.
- Many communities have strict “no touch” rules that apply to areas immediately bordering the lake (usually 25-30 feet). This means no building, clearing, tree trimming, planting, etc. They are trying to maintain a natural buffer zone… which is a great idea. But keep in mind; it could impact your plans with the lot.
- Also, be aware that there are severe fines for disregarding the rules when it comes to wetland protection. A recent lakefront homeowner in Southeastern MA cut down a huge pine tree 15 feet from the water without permission and was fined $150,000.
- Be cautious of any property that boasts “lake rights”, “lake access”, “deeded lake rights”, “right-of-way to lake”, etc. Many times, the current homeowners believe one thing and the reality is a different story. Have a qualified real estate attorney confirm the exact RIGHTS that come with the property.
Be sure to ask is there are any easements on the property such as utility easements, shared drives, etc. Verify through a real estate attorney.