Building Department

Riparian Setback Information

Gates Mills Village Riparian Setback Ordinance
Helpful Information for the Community

What does “riparian” mean?

A riparian area is the naturally vegetated area of land along rivers or streams. Healthy riparian areas provide a variety of free services to communities and residents and play a crucial role in helping communities with their flooding, erosion, and water quality challenges.

What are riparian setbacks?

Riparian setbacks are a zoning tool that communities can use to maintain these free riparian functions as communities grow and land is developed or redeveloped. Riparian setbacks are intended to control the location of soil disturbing activities within the riparian zone. They are similar to other zoning tools such as front and side yard setbacks, and they can be flexed with other setbacks to allow the riparian setback to be maintained without making lots unbuildable. Riparian setbacks are not intended to prevent development but to find the best location for development on a particular property.


Why do communities adopt riparian setbacks?

Over 80 communities in Ohio, including the Village of Gates Mills, have adopted riparian setbacks because they help maintain the free services of riparian areas. They also lower costs to residents and communities by keeping homes, infrastructure, and other property out of the path of ever-changing streams without decreasing property values. The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency and Chagrin River Watershed Partners recommend riparian setbacks as part of a community’s stormwater management program for flood control, erosion control, and water quality protection. Finally, protection of riparian areas only occurs at the local level, as state and federal agencies regulate activities within the stream channel itself but these agencies are not responsible for maintaining the function of riparian areas.

What does this mean for me?

If you are a Gates Mills landowner:

  • Refer to the Village’s Riparian Setback Guide Map (available online) to determine if riparian setbacks may apply to your property. If setbacks apply to your property, the setback area should be preserved in its natural state and natural vegetation should be maintained. Recreational activity, removal of damaged or diseased trees, and revegetation with native plant species are allowed in the setback area. Any other activities are prohibited in the riparian setback without a variance and may include:  construction of new structures, dumping, installation of fences and walls, installation of roads and driveways, and disturbance of natural vegetation. Prohibited activities are not limited to these examples. Riparian setbacks do not apply to existing structures and uses of your property at the time the ordinance was passed (10-2020). These structures can be maintained and repaired but should not be changed or enlarged. Some activities, such as stream crossings, streambank stabilization projects, and landscaping, may occur in the riparian setback if a Conditional Use Permit is granted by the Village Planning and Zoning Commission.
  • If you are proposing a new structure or soil disturbing activities which require submittal of plans to the Village, these activities are subject to the zoning process. When you submit plans to the Village for approval (subdivision plans, land development plans, and/or zoning permit applications), your Engineer,  Architect, or Contractor should delineate the location of any riparian setbacks on the plans . If your plans propose a prohibited use within a riparian setback, you will have an opportunity to discuss your project with the Planning and Zoning Commission, request a variance if necessary, and identify the best possible approach with minimum impact to the riparian setback.
  • Maintenance of lawns, landscaping, shrubbery, or trees existing at the time of passage of the regulation is permitted. New landscaping is considered a conditionally permitted use so a variance would not be required, but the landowner should submit a landscaping plan for community review and approval if natural vegetation will be removed within the setback.

If you are an Engineer, Architect, or other Professional contracted for design or construction of activities on a property within the Village of Gates Mills:

  • Refer to the Village’s Riparian Setback Guide Map to determine if riparian setbacks may apply to your client’s property. If setbacks apply to the property, the location of any riparian setbacks (based on a survey of the affected land) should be delineated on plans prior to submitting plans to the Village (plans include subdivision plans, land development plans, and/or zoning permit applications). Site plans shall include:
    • Boundaries of the lot with dimensions;
    • Locations of all designated watercourses;
    • Limits and dimensions of the riparian setbacks;
    • Existing topography at intervals of 2 feet;
    • Location and dimensions of any proposed structures or uses, including proposed soil disturbance, in relationship to all designated watercourses;
    • North arrow, scale, date, and stamp bearing the name and registration number of the qualified professional who prepared the site plan; and
    • Other such information as may be necessary for the Village to ensure compliance with the riparian setback ordinance.
  • Development plans may need to be adjusted to meet riparian setback requirements unless a variance is granted. If a variance is granted, the Planning and Zoning Commission may require certain conditions for approval of the variance request.
  • If soil disturbing activities will occur within 50 feet of the outer boundary of the riparian setback, the riparian setback shall be clearly identified on site with construction fencing as shown on the site plan. Such identification shall be completed prior to the initiation of any soil disturbing activities and shall be maintained throughout soil disturbing activities.

If you are a realtor:

  • Refer to the Village’s Riparian Setback Guide Map to determine if riparian setbacks may apply to the property being sold or purchased.
  • If riparian setbacks may apply to the property, this information should be disclosed to prospective buyers so they may understand the benefits and requirements for riparian setback areas.

Want More Information?

Full Language for Village of Gates Mills Planning and Zoning Code Chapter 1176 (Riparian Setbacks)
Available at:

Village of Gates Mills Riparian Setback Guide Map
Available at:

Please note: The riparian setback guide map is meant to be used as a tool to help the community or a property owner determine if riparian setbacks might apply to their property. The map is prepared using best available Geographic Information System data and it should be used as a guide only. If any discrepancy is found between the guide map and the regulation, the criteria in the regulation prevail.

Village of Gates Mills’ Educational Video: Benefits of Maintaining Healthy Streamside Areas
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More information about riparian setbacks and the Chagrin River Watershed can be found on Chagrin River Watershed Partners’ Website
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More information about natural resource management can be found on Cuyahoga Soil and Water Conservation District’s Website:
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Community Riparian and Wetland Guidance: Putting all the Pieces Together
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