The City of St. Joseph is nestled along the south eastern shore of Lake Michigan approximately 50 miles west of Kalamazoo, Michigan (City of St. Joseph). As of 2012, more than 8,300 individuals call this robust small community home ("St. Joseph"). Although the city itself only takes up 4.8 square miles (City of St. Joseph), it features the St. Joseph Harbor, the St. Joseph River, and miles of shoreline that are largely maintained for the public's use and enjoyment despite their ownership by lake front proprietors.
In the fall of 2011, the city received an application for a permit to build a large seawall, aimed at protecting the applicant's property from the rising waters of Lake Michigan. Adjacent property owners and the surrounding community raised objections based on concerns that the proposed seawall would aggravate erosion along the beach and limit public access to the shoreline. Soon after, the permit request was withdrawn; however, this did little to quell community member's concern, who continued to question what consequences could result from additional development along the shoreline.
In the face of this uncertainty private donors, with the support of the city commission, funded the completion of an extensive engineering study on the shoreline in question ("A Line in the Sand"). After analyzing 100 years' worth of data on Lake Michigan water levels and extreme weather events, the consulting engineers recommended that the city of St. Joseph implement a fixed setback line, beyond which, property owners could not build permanent structures along the beach (Edgewater, 2012).
Mixed responses to the proposed setback were voiced by the community; some maintained that the fixed nature of the setback line was too stringent and could constitute a taking of their private development rights ("How Close is Too Close to the Water?"). After meetings between the City Commission, the general public, and representatives from both engineering firms, a general consensus was reached about the necessity of the proposed set back line (Morphey Interview, 2013). In the fall of 2012, the St. Joseph City Commission voted and passed a "no-build" zoning ordinance that, in accordance with the consulting engineers' recommendations, prohibits the construction of permanent structures at a fixed elevation above sea level, which intersects with the shoreline approximately 200 feet from the water's edge. ("No More Mistakes on the Lake").
This no-build zoning ordinance is the first of its kind in the state of Michigan ("Don't Build along the Shoreline"). This zoning ordinance demonstrates one critical way in which local governments and community members can work together and use policy instruments to mitigate uncertainty and protect the integrity ofpublic access and private property along the shoreline alike, despite the inevitable fluctuations of Lake Michigan.