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Riparian setbacks benefit city, river

Gold Hill residents with riverfront property are understandably concerned about the potential of a 75-foot setback requirement, but it appears planners and city officials are offering to make the transition as easy as possible.

There are good reasons for setbacks, most important among them protecting fish and other wildlife that depend on clean water. Waterfront property that pollutes the water it fronts won’t be desirable for long.

The impetus behind the proposal is a requirement in state and county laws that the city impose setbacks if it wants to expand its boundaries. Taking more residential property into the city would boost Gold Hill’s tax base, which would help the community afford to repair and improve streets, water treatment and other infrastructure.

In a recent City Council meeting, riverfront property owners objected to what they said was government telling them what they can and cannot do with their property. But government has long done just that through zoning laws and other ordinances. No one would defend the right of a property owner to start a pig farm in the middle of a residential neighborhood, for example.

A riparian setback would prohibit property owners from installing lawns and building structures close to the water, but wouldn’t otherwise restrict use of the property by residents. The current proposal would grandfather in existing uses, meaning residents who already have lawns or other development within the setback area could keep them.

In addition, county officials told residents the setbacks could range from 25 feet to 200 feet, so there is room to negotiate narrower setbacks.

A council member who said the city’s existing surface water management plan should be enough to protect the river is missing the point of setbacks. A management plan focused on runoff from public streets and storm drains doesn’t address the effect of fertilizer on residential lawns seeping into the river.

The council will conduct a community workshop on the issue July 9. Waterfront residents and others should attend with an open mind and a willingness to find common ground.

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