House with Wetlands / Buffer Area - need advice

trying2buyJanuary 30, 2007

Hi All,

DH and I found a house we really like (we are in NJ), however the back strip (about 10 %) of the 1 acre property is not usable as it is marked wetlands (near a stream, but no standing water). There is about a 50 ft buffer section that cuts across the backyard then another approximately 40 foot area next to the house going across the backyard(clear area - no restrictions) and then the house. Does anyone have any experience with homes with wetlands or buffer areas on them? The house is perfect for us - this is our only concern - but it is a big one. What about a pool in the future, fence etc? Anyone ever deal with the DEP or know anything at all about this issue? We are lost on this one and agents not too helpful on this issue.. understand nothing can be built in the wetlands area, but not sure about this buffer or transition area. What about resale value if we bought this house and had to sell in the future? Any personal experience or tips even as to the questions we should ask would be helpful.

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Where are you located? I don't remember where you're looking.

We looked at a house with a similar strip on the land but decided against it. Our realtor recommended that we check the zoning laws carefully (we wanted to add on to the house) - he said his broker said that he shouldn't advise us on it due to legal liability. We had to check for ourselves.

We decided it was too much hassle to deal with the zoning dept et al. We passed on the house but we saw that it sold a month or so later.

    Bookmark   January 31, 2007 at 1:41AM
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you really should check locally with the zoning folks because these things vary and the wording of each juristiction is a bit different, but generally nothing is buildable in a buffer without at least a variance. That's why it is a buffer (i.e. no fence, pool, patio, etc).

    Bookmark   January 31, 2007 at 6:20AM
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It may be hard to find the right person to talk to but I think your going to have to start calling the various city, county and state agencies to find your answer. I would not stop at the first answer yout get either. Sometimes you really have to keep calling down or up the chain and then voila! you get the real right person on the phone who tells you something similar to the other answers but is the definitive answer.

As for resale - i would think that most people wouldnt like it.

For me - I would love it. I am always looking for something like this. If you can't build back there you'll always have a bit of privacy.
Most people would worry about flooding, mosquito's, kids falling in etc. etc. I'd be thinking birds, bird feeders, wildlife, the sound of water.
But again, I talk to people about this all the time (I work at a military base, lots of people coming and going, discussing real estate) and most don't like anything that is different or could be a potential problem.

Maybe you should let it go so someone who will appreciate it will find it?

    Bookmark   January 31, 2007 at 7:00AM
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I know in our town some of the restrictions are- no cutting in the buffer zone, leave it as is. It's there for a reason.
If you are allowed to add on, put in a shed,garage,etc. it must meet set-back regulations.
No use of pesticides,poisons, for lawn or tree care due to the possibility of runoff.
These are just some of the regulations. Check with your town code enforcement or town planning office.
It wouldn't bother me to have a wetland area in my backyard. My property doesn't need to be developed to the max for me to enjoy it. NancyLouise

    Bookmark   January 31, 2007 at 8:10AM
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I agree with marys1000. I'd like the privacy but would be more worried about wildlife, mosquitoes and flooding. You can get privacy elswhere in NJ, I'm sure it's a very woodsy place.

    Bookmark   January 31, 2007 at 9:35AM
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I don't know about NJ, but I have lived in Mass and Maine, and wetlands are very common up here (and they are strict in their protection of them as well). We have a huge section of wetlands on the left side of our property, another small section on the right side of the driveway, and a pond as our rear property line (we are on 3.75 acres). I LIKE the wetlands. We have tons of birds and dragonflys. Mosquitos are not bad because the lot is very open in the middle and we have a near constant breeze. All spring and summer we hear frogs. That said, we have a huge side yard where we could put in a pool and most of the lot is "dry".

I would call the builder inspector/code enforcement. Be very friendly and see what info you can get out of them on set backs and other rules on pools.

    Bookmark   January 31, 2007 at 10:08AM
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I'll chime in with talking to your local zoning authorities. In my area, it's the county Environmental Services office. They'll be happy to help you understand the rules and regulations.

Just go in and tell them what you told us in your initial post, and then ask "what do I need to know about future building or other use on this property?"

    Bookmark   January 31, 2007 at 11:07AM
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Be aware that NJDEP is poised to propose a VERY rigid riparian corridor regulations, that will drastically effect what one can and can't do with property that surrounds the stream within a certain number of feet (150, or more)...specifically if the stream has been designated C1(Category 1). No construction, no clearing, encroachment, etc.
Your best bet is to go to the municipality to see if they have a completed stormwater management plan. This should identify your streams categoryƂand any township riparian corridor ordinance already in place. However, if the new NJDEP regs are more stringent, they will trump the town regs.
You really should do solid research on this with the township & NJDEP in order that you have all of the facts upon which to decide
Best wishes.

    Bookmark   January 31, 2007 at 11:36AM
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You say that it's a stream in the back, and there is no standing water. In that case, I don't think you have to worry about mosquitoes, do you?

We bought a house that had three acres and a full acre of the back was wetlands. No, we were not allowed to build anything there, but the other two acres were plenty for us. The assurance that we would always have our privacy in back - because our neighbor also had wetlands in his back yard - was priceless. We had no trouble selling that house, but where we are, little patches of restricted wetlands are quite common.

    Bookmark   January 31, 2007 at 11:38AM
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Don't forget to find out about flooding and flood insurance.

    Bookmark   January 31, 2007 at 11:59AM
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As soon as I hear the word wetlands I think snakes, skeeters, bugs, mushy lawn and wet basement.
Whether that is a fair picture of what you have or not it's what a future buyer may think too.

Be wary of the NJ DEP.
DH dealt with them about 12 yrs ago. on a property he had there. Not what I'd call a pleasant experience. They are experts at not answering questions and giving peeps the run around.

    Bookmark   January 31, 2007 at 2:35PM
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Be wary of the NJ DEP......
....They are experts at not answering questions and giving peeps the run around.

EXCELLENT advice....and very, very true. NJ has tons of regulations, but has minimal efficency with regard to dealing with them properly...which in the end costs everyone.

    Bookmark   February 1, 2007 at 12:06PM
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Ask if you have to carry flood insurance.

    Bookmark   February 1, 2007 at 4:31PM
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I hope you are making progress in getting a full picture here. Wetlands are regulated on various levels--on the Federal Level, it's the Army Corps of Engineers. New Jersey is one of the states that has state-level policies as well. I would start with the building and zoning person at your municipal level (because municipalities sometimes have added their own restrictions to what the Federal and State regulations are) and I would also check with New Jersey's Department of Environmental Protection. You may have to get switched around a lot, but if you're patient, you should eventually get to someone who is knowledgeable and willing to explain things to you. Typically in buffer zones you can't do anything permanent. In some areas you can put a fence in the buffer zone as long as it doesn't have a foundation--posts couldn't be put in concrete footers, for example. For the most part I haven't encountered too much troube in marketing homes or lots adjoiningg wetlands and with buffer zones as long as their was still nice backyard space. The folks that are turned off by the idea of problems seem to be counterbalanced by the ones that are happy with the idea that no one can build there. You may want to do a mini stakeout of where you'd position your pool, and make sure that you are able to do what you want to do with the type of space between the rear of your home, deck/patio positioning, etc. without encroaching in your buffer zone. Good luck--these things can get a bit technical, but you should know the ins and outs and be comfortable with them before signing on the dotted line.

    Bookmark   February 2, 2007 at 11:54AM
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I could be a positive, because no rear development can occur beyond your property. Also, the birds and wildlife might be nice. I would rather have a wetland than, say, an apartment complex or even unruly rear neighbors or even a road.

We have a wetland on the back of our property because it borders a body of water. No problemo.

Keep in mind that lakes and rivers are considered wetland sand there are rules about building within so close of those. Often it can be 10" setback - or 100" setback. It depends on the county and possibley state rules too. But it is not something to run away from. It seems scarier than it really is.

You just need to learn from the county or city(whichever has jurisdiction over your building and zoning rules) what are the setbacks to the water and what are the rules of what can or can't be done there. Then ask them what state rules apply(they usually know). Then get the state dept contact info from the county folks - and ask state folks about any rules (there might be none). The county folks and state folks often communicate due to some permits needing approval from both offices.

But because the house you are considering is existing, what is the big deal unless you are having a need to build in the very back of the property -which doesn't sound like the case.

To find out about flood insurance, call an agent and give the address of the property. Keep in mind flood insurance can be very cheap - ours is $200/yr.

    Bookmark   February 2, 2007 at 12:46PM
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I previously owned a house on a large lot with wetlands in front and back. As others have pointed out, you need to investigate what your local situation allows and doesn't, but in my case, you couldn't build, use, or modify anything anywhere near the wetlands. The pros: tons of birds, peepers, and various other critters; it was like a wildlife preserve! We loved the privacy. Cons: sometimes we were awakened in the middle of the night by some poor creature's dying throes as they were preyed upon be something bigger and stronger. Every now and then you'd smell what the neighbors called "swamp gas", not pleasant to the nose. The worst thing were the 'skeeters. People who tried to visit us at twilight couldn't believe how many bites they'd accumulate just trying to get from their car to our front door. I freaked very time I found a hole in a screen. I have to admit I'd think twice before buying another house near wetlands again.

    Bookmark   February 3, 2007 at 4:19PM
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quick stort of NJDEP..A family in Northern NJ had a piece of property that had no signs of water,no stream,pond, or standing water..The peoperty had a slight slope to it,and was not growing grass because of this.They hired a landscape firm, who leveled,cleared some brush,placed top soli, added some garden beds with speciem plantings and perrenials,planted a lawn,really did a beautiful job..The owners spent around 50k for this,They got the proper permits from township for soil movement.The NJDEP somehow happened upon the proeprty, and notified the owners that the whole area had to be returned to its natural state, as there were signs of wetlands(a coiuple of skunk cabbages and about 3 phragmites..The NJDEP would oversee this conversion back.The owners were furious.They had been given the ok from township,got the proper permits.NJDEP simplt said "tough!" The owners spent 25k in legal costs only to lose.They spend an additional 15k to rip it all out and do what NJDEP insisted.Moral of story? Do your homework diligently when involved with wetlands

    Bookmark   February 3, 2007 at 5:59PM
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"Moral of story? Do your homework diligently when involved with wetlands"

And another moral of that story: permits are worth nothing.

Yes, permits are "revokable" licenses and if the city issued one in error, it's your problem, not theirs.

    Bookmark   February 4, 2007 at 6:34AM
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Is the house on a public sewer or on a septic system?

Ten years ago we sold a house in NJ with a septic system and a seasonal stream that was not far from the house. After it was sold it was determined that it needed a new leach field but because of the location of the stream it had to be put uphill a long distance from the house costing $20,000 and taking several months to complete.

    Bookmark   February 4, 2007 at 12:59PM
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In MA, at least in our town, we have a "builder's acre" rule. Consider carefully if the home is older, whether some day someone would want to buy it as a tear down and rebuild. If there is a builder's acre rule, then you could only sell it as a dwelling, and not for redevelopment potential.

    Bookmark   February 11, 2007 at 2:04PM
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This person never checked in after the initial post so we're all just spinning our wheels here though the topic is interesting and the information informative.

    Bookmark   February 11, 2007 at 2:42PM
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My two cents:

If ANY environmental group can get entangled in ANY way with a propery, I would avoid it like the plague. These agencies are becoming the 4th branch of government. They have nothing to lose by constantly changing the have everything to lose and carry all the risk.

    Bookmark   February 11, 2007 at 4:42PM
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Wish the poster would come back & post where in NJ this is. Down where I am, there are pinelands, which have their own rules & regs.

    Bookmark   February 11, 2007 at 5:19PM
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So sorry everyone! Finally checking back in - had to go out of town last week. This house is in Central New Jersey. Thank you so very much for all of your posts - I truly wish our agent could have been so informative! As it turns out we went back with the survey to look at the house again and saw that about 1/2 acre of 1 acre was wetland or buffer area. Only about 30-35 ft of usable backyard. It had just snowed, and the snow was melting and they had installed a sump pump recently with a drain pipe line going away from the house. This pump was pushing out so much water it made us quite nervous. We also found out that the water table in that section of the development was quite high as well. We decided to pass, but have heard that they have had 7 offers on the house (apparently all low ball offers so far). Such a beautiful house, but we were too concerned about the water and the lack of usable backyard (and given that this was a new house the taxes were quite steep as well).

    Bookmark   February 11, 2007 at 8:40PM
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I think you were wise, t2b! I am surprised they let them drain off their water into the wetlands.

    Bookmark   March 1, 2007 at 2:37AM
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Thank you - and the super great news - we just signed a contract on another house and are so, so excited - moving in 24 days! That house is still on the market..

    Bookmark   March 3, 2007 at 12:44AM
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Great thread! I just found out 5 minutes ago that the 10 acre lot we bought in Florida has been designated a partial wetland, 3 acres of it. Now I need to find out what the setback is, and if we can/should sue the seller/developer. On one hand, it would be nice to have a wetland, as we like birds, but on the other hand, I don't know what this all means.


    Bookmark   October 16, 2007 at 12:01PM
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Don't panic yet, Marvin. We lived in a lovely home with wetlands and a buffer at the back of our 3 acre property. It was never a problem at that distance and with 10 acres (only 3 affected) you shouldn't have an issue. Actually, where we lived, it raised our property value as it was one of the few areas in town where a developer couldn't build. The new buyers knew they would never lose their gorgeous views back there or their privacy. We had multiple offers when other homes sat on the market. It will depend on your area

    Bookmark   October 16, 2007 at 1:31PM
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I would say if you have all these questions, then the person you want to sell to someday will have similar questions.

Water can really mess up your home. So can the government.

    Bookmark   October 18, 2007 at 11:36AM
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We are considering buying a house around Seattle which is 6700 Sq Ft. of usable space backed by wetlands. It hardly is wetlands seems more like a swamp/marshland and is a very small body of water/slush. Do you guys think mosquitoes and frogs can be a problem in Seattle? Also...we are hoping to build a "hanging deck" out starting from our plot to barely above the "wetlands" (our house would be higher). Would that be a problem even if we wouldn't go until the "no-go" zone? Also ...does a house being near a wetland automatically mean it is more prone to mold and uneven foundation? It is a new house - built in 2004.

Please help...this is rather urgent. Thank you!

    Bookmark   April 1, 2008 at 7:45PM
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You might want to make a new post and / or also try citydata as they have local forums where someone may be able to answer state specific questions.

    Bookmark   April 1, 2008 at 8:26PM
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Yes to mosquitoes & frogs in Seattle. Are you not from here? My experience is that the mosquitoes will largely stay put though and so will the frogs. If you aren't too close, it wouldn't bother me. I doubt that a deck can intrude on the wetlands even though it is above ground. I wouldn't assume that your are more prone to flooding or problems with water. That would depend on the lay of the land. I have known several people to deliberately locate themselves next to a wetland for the privacy and just for the amazing variety of insects, birds and amphibeans they could watch. As far as I know, none of them had a problem. I think it would be great.

    Bookmark   April 1, 2008 at 9:13PM
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Swamps and marshes ARE wetlands. I live in Minnesota, and the state bird is the mosquito! My brother lived on a wetland which then ran into a lake. Those were premium lots and he had no trouble selling. He had a screened in porch in the back (used to be a deck), but mosquitoes are a problem generally in the state. The rest of the wild life was wonderful, especially since he was in a western suburb of Minneapolis. Check out as much info as you can, and good luck! (And yes, maybe start another thread.)

    Bookmark   April 1, 2008 at 11:02PM
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Your questions suggest that things like "wildlife" "wildlife habitat" are not things you know about or find thrilling. If so, I might pass. This place with its noisy chorus frogs, mosquitos, racoons, soggy yard, snakes, smell etc. will become something you consider a PIA. Hard to tell about the foundation. Is this a lower to moderately priced suburb and the wet area a drainage area? Have you asked neighbors of any incidents? Is this a slab or a basement?

    Bookmark   April 2, 2008 at 5:37AM
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Thank you all, truly.

I should probably start another thread (as has been suggested). We are super busy currently (negotiating and stressing and all).

Will elaborate more on the new thread. Will keep checking back on this meanwhile too.

    Bookmark   April 3, 2008 at 2:23PM
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we are planning of buying a house The house we liked sits up on a hill with an acre lot size The part of the property falls under conservation wetlands as there is a brook that runs through it My concern is about the effect of wetland and propert resale value and the chances of erosion There is no history of flooding in the basement and there are no sign of settling but house is just 7 years old

    Bookmark   February 8, 2011 at 1:52PM
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