Buying a property that includes wetlands

Does anyone have any experience buying a property that includes wetlands?

My husband and I are about to (tomorrow) purchase a new home which backs up to a pond region that has been designated protected wetlands. Part of our lot (the back 1/3) carries that designation and must remain completely natural (no inground pool, shed, deck supports, etc). We’re allowed to do all the landscaping we want and use pavers to create walkways, etc, but we will never be allowed to construct anything artificial on that section of the property.

Should we be worried about resale value? On the one hand, it means we can never put in a pool, but on the other hand, it is one of the choicest lots in the neighborhood, looking out over that landscaped pond instead of at tons of other houses.

Is there anything crucial we should know about this? Are there more restrictions of which we’re not aware?

Sorry, I have nothing directly important to your case, just a story.

My friends parents purchased their property about 20 years ago, next to a meadow. This meadow had a creek flowing through it year round, but swelled in the spring due to run-off from the snowpack. In those months, the wildlife would congregate there due to the marsh grasses and insects.

About 10 years ago, the TRPA (regional planning agency) deemed this area a natural wetland. Supposedly, this would have prevented any more construction on the surrounding property, due to the environmental hazard of destroying a ‘wetland’ would produce.

The county and/or state has been dumping money into restoring the wetlands in the surrounding area, due to the lessening clarity of the lake (Lake Tahoe).

Sounds good so far, but with the decreasing amount of lots to build on, and the increasing prices in the area, someone managed to have an 'environmental study' done and determine that this lot was 'buildable(sp?)" and not a threat to the wildlife.

 I am neither an environmentalist, nor one who hates people with financial means, but this pissed me off that someone with $$ can conduct a biased study and have it approved by the powers that be.

 I guess I'll just wait and see if his house sinks in the marsh, or if he dumps alot more into it to retrofit it to the landscape...

  Sorry for the rant, it just bothers me.

The most rewarding part was when I got my money!
-Dr. Nick Riviera

I think to get an answer to your question (“Are there more restrictions of which we’re not aware?”) you will have to make multiple phone calls to ALL the organizations that might have a say in what you do with your property (neighborhood association(?), city, county, state, federal).

A few years ago, when a builder without a building permit started removing trees from an “unbuildable” lot near a stream in my neighborhood, I called the county. I finally reached a very friendly, helpful, and candid fellow and asked him whether the lot was buildable or not. After discussing the restrictions that applied to the lot, he told me: “But my boss always says, ‘If you’ve got enough money, you can build on the moon.’”

Not long ago I bought 0.4 acres of floodplain with a stream that backs up to the lower end of my back yard. There are all kinds of restrictions (e.g., no landscaping within 20 feet or so of the stream which means no landscaping on half the lot). I don’t care. I’m delighted to have the stream and trees and even happier that now I don’t have to worry about somebody with a either a clever engineer or a friend in the zoning department building on it.

Well, as long as you don’t plan on making physical improvements to your property, you’ll probably be okay. As far as resale value goes, you would have to find someone with a similar mindset. That is, someone for whom a pool or addition is not important.

Just for your information, here is a partial list of agencies you may want to contact for further information:
–Corps of Engineers (administer Clean Water Act)
–state EPA (Division of Water Pollution Control)
–state Department of Natural Resources (usually deal with water regulation and zoning and listed species consultation)
–county land use, zoning, and planning/development departments

This is assuming that there are no federally listed species on your property. If your wetland also happens to contain, say, an endangered snail; well, then the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service gets into the act. You haven’t seen anything as far as restrictions go until you see what happens when the Feds find an endangered species on your property.

Now is where I would normally go into my detailed opinion about the implications of the Endangered Species Act and private property rights, but I’ll save it for later.

The truth is, I know more about endangered species consultation (it’s the main focus of my job) than about wetlands protection. It may very well be that you are facing a potential quagmire of restrictions and regulations. My suggestion is to seek out a couple of private environmental consultants for their take in things.

Be aware that there are groups well to the left of the political spectrum, as well as those further to the right. You will get different opinions from different groups, based on their agendas; so, be sure to talk to more than just a couple.

One I would recommend is The Nature Conservancy. They are a private entity (not government) with a lot of experience in buying environmentally sensitive land. They could probably help you a lot.

Yeah, you’ll always be able to find people who couldn’t care less about having a pool as long as they can look out the back window at some nice land. Don’t worry about that. However…

…heed well Squee’s and Yeah’s cautionary tales. A local developer in our county claimed to have misunderstood which portion of his land was protected wetland, then just started draining and filling 10 acres of it. The county commission is currently debating what punative action to take – the law says they have to reclaim 30 times the acreage they destroyed. Cool! Stick it to 'em.

The point is, even if the nifty adjacent property that makes yours valuable never gets reclassified, some unscrupulous bastard could develop it (“Oops, sorry…”) and either get away with it or have buldozers there for a year or three making amends. Protect your investment by paying close attention to local government and it relationship to developers.

Wetland is just a pretty word for ‘swamp.’

I remember when they would rip people off by selling people swampland. Now its actually a positive thing. Go figure.

I might check what sort of animals are in it with the local museum first.

If the property that you are buying has all houses and other buildings completed and you have no plans to build anything else, you should be OK. However, you may still have problems if any prior owner illegally interfered with the wetlands (and possibly surrounding buffer zones).

Also, it is illegal to fill any wetlands without a permit or applicable exception. Your statement that you will be allowed to do any landscaping you want and use pavers to create walkways may be incorrect. Furthermore, local conservation organizations may have information about wetlands policy, but they may not know what the law allows you to do or not do on your property.

I would strongly recommend that you speak with a local lawyer with experience in wetlands issues before buying the property.

Assuming that there are no wetlands violations, the wetlands on the property will probably continue to affect its value in the way it does now, with the value of the property reduced below that of a comparably sized lot because the area that can be developed is reduced, but with an increase in value due to location and view.

By the way, you should realize that once you buy the property there is always the possiblity that the wetlands laws will change, further restricting you.

Thanks for all the advice.

The pond area is technically designated “wetlands” and carries restrictions, but it’s by no means a swamp. As far as I can tell, it’s just been preserved by the township/county to prevent overdevelopment of the area. The houses being built around it are all graded into it and will use it for storm drainage as well as the view.

The funny part is, it’s a narrow oval of about 1.5-2 acres (at least the part that’s in this development), so I can’t imagine it’s sheltering an endangered species or anything. I’m still trying to get answers from the Township, but it seems like it’s just advance planning to keep the entire area from being filled and developed.

Actually, the more I think about it, the more it seems like a clever way to get homeowners to foot the bill for some of the area’s protected open space. Of course, given that they’re pitching in an acre or two right next to my property, I guess that’s not so bad.

Actually… I think it’s more like 3-5 acres, not 1-2. My head’s not screwed on straight tonight. :frowning:

doesnt seem like a problem . . a great lot backed up to protected wildlife area . . thats working for you . . your view is protected and no one can build a mall behind your house. if you have a wooded lot . . all the better . . dont go crazy putting up decks and outbuildings . . try to keep the rear “blended” with the habitat. youll make out better when you sell . . myself, id buy a house/property that is equal to its environment rather than one that has a hot tub, pool, and 3 decks.

Straight fearmongering. FWS rules change the the equation very little from Army Corps requirements, and they would affect the developer who created the subdivision, not the prospective homeowner, who by all appearances here is already “buying into” a management plan. These “onerous restrictions” involve the avoidance of take, so the hypothetical snail means you can’t drain the habitat, which in this case is a moot point; or apply certain types of pesticides to put down mosquitoes, which is also a moot point when you’re buying an identified wetland.

My small lot is bordered by a stream and it is part of a designated wetlands area. We have a septic system, and it is grandfathered (my house was built in 1850.) It is almost impossible to find someone who will work on the septic system beyond pumping the tank. They say they would be harrassed by the town and state inspectors. We finally had a guy come to replace a pipe. He came at dusk, who drove up in his own car and not his truck, used my tools, asked to be paid in cash, and if anyone asked, he was my uncle. If I had a choice, I would stay away from wetlands - it is not worth the bother.