March 27, 2013


By Neal A. Shipman
Farmer Editor

For over 100 years, McKenzie County got by just fine without countywide zoning or a land use plan. Granted, there may have been some times, especially during the oil booms of the ’60s, ’70s and again in the ’80s, when zoning ordinances would have been beneficial. But fortunately or unfortunately, back then when some people were starting to think that some form of zoning would have been beneficial to help direct the growth at that time, the booms went bust. And as the countryside again returned to its normal patterns, the need for zoning was sent to the back burner.
While it does no good to look back in time, it is hard not to wonder how McKenzie County would look today if zoning had been enacted 20 or 30 years ago. If zoning ordinances had been in place in McKenzie County, would our countryside be blighted by the literally hundreds of man camps that have sprung up in the past five years? Or would our county roads be as beaten to death as they are by the truck traffic from the trucking companies that have sprung up as close to a paved highway as possible? Or would we have all of the seemingly uncontrolled industrial growth up and down the highways and just outside our existing communities?
We can wonder all that we like on how the county might look today if there had been zoning ordinances enacted before this latest boom. But that discussion is water under the bridge. The development that we have today is what we are going to have to live with for a long, long time.
But with the county commissioners’ final adoption of a county zoning and land use plan, the days of the “wild, wild west” in McKenzie County are finally over. Gone are the days when a developer could just buy or lease land in the county and throw up any kind of building or industrial development they wanted without any oversight from the county. And gone are the days of neighboring landowners not having a due hearing process where they have an opportunity to hear what is being planned next to their property and have an opportunity to either share their support or objection to such developments.
Obviously, as was expressed during all of the public hearings that were held as part of the process of putting together the zoning and land use plans, many landowners fear that county zoning ordinances could impact what they are able to do with their property. But considering that the vast majority of the county’s landmass has historically been used for agricultural purposes and will continue to be used for that purpose well into the future, zoning ordinances will have no impact on the landowner.
Likewise, since all existing businesses, man camps or other developments that are already in place in the county are “grand-fathered” into the county plan, they are free to continue their operation until such time as they either decide to expand or change the scope of the business.
County zoning may take a little time for some people to get used to. For those landowners who are looking to develop their property, depending upon what they intend to do, they may now have to go through a process during which they must submit plans and drawings of what it is they are going to have developed on their land. And those plans are going to be reviewed, and probably modified, in order to ensure that county and state rules and regulations are followed.
Having zoning and a land use plan doesn’t restrict development. On the contrary, it can encourage development.
But more importantly, these two tools will help ensure that future development in McKenzie County is done right. And when that development happens in the correct manner, it ensures that for those of us living here now, as well as for the future residents of the county, McKenzie County will continue to be an area that we are proud to call home.