June 9, 2015

City struggles to end temporary housing units

By Neal A. Shipman
Farmer Editor

When the oil boom hit Watford City five years ago, the lack of housing forced the Watford City City Council to allow for the creation of several temporary workforce housing units throughout the city under Conditional Use Permits. And as more permanent housing has been constructed over the past two years, the city council now thinks that the time has come to start ending those Conditional Use Permits.
But that proposal drew heated debate, but no formal action, during the council’s regular meeting on Monday, June 1.
“The city is looking at non-renewing those Conditional Use Permits,” stated Curt Moen, city planner and zoning administrator. “We would like to create an effective date that would apply to all these temporary housing units.”
According to Moen, there are 12 Conditional Use Permits that have been granted to individuals and/or businesses to operate temporary workforce housing sites within the city limits.
Some of the holders of the Conditional Use Permits, including Marty Mulder, a city councilman who also operates one of the workforce housing sites, questioned whether it was legal for the city to change its ordinances governing temporary workforce housing. But, according to Wyatt Voll, city attorney, the city can change its ordinances so long as it does not do so arbitrarily.
But for Billie Morken, who along with her husband, Ray, own BBR RV Park, the city needs their type of housing, which she says is more affordable than what is being built.
“We had to be in compliance with city ordinances,” stated Morken. “We offer affordable housing to senior citizens and teachers. Now, all of a sudden, we could lose our Conditional Use Permit. There isn’t a reason to pull our permit.”
The issue, according to  Brent Sanford, Watford City mayor, isn’t about whether or not the holders of the Conditional Use Permits are following the rules. It’s about the city making the transition from temporary to permanent housing.
“We all knew that this was a temporary solution,” stated Sanford. “Within the past month apartment rents are starting to come down. We’ve been waiting for this to happen. And now renters have an option for housing.”
Sanford also noted that if the city were to move forward with ending the Conditional Use Permits, the owners of some of the affected workforce housing units have options.
“You could put in mobile homes and comply with the zoning regulations,” stated Sanford. “The point is you have options on your land to come into compliance with the city’s zoning regulations. You haven’t had to follow the zoning rules that everyone else has had to follow.
Moen noted that he believes the time is right for the city to begin shifting from temporary to permanent housing.
“There was a time when we needed all of the temporary housing,” stated Moen. “But with the city now seeing permanent housing being built, there is less of a need for the workforce housing.”
And for Aaron Gravos, city councilman, it is time for the city to get back to its intended zoning and land use.
“These permits, when they were issued, were conditional. And they were temporary,” stated Gravos.
While the city council took no action on the proposal to end workforce housing in the city limits, Moen urged the council to set a date when the process would begin.
“When you (the council) sets the date, we’ll have sit-downs with the affected owners of the workforce housing units,” stated Moen. “We will be able to individually go over their options. But without a date, there is no incentive for them to meet with us.”