January 11, 2012

County moves forward with zoning

By Lauren Billing
Farmer Staff Writer

After months and months of going back and forth about zoning, the McKenzie County Commissioners have passed a motion at their Jan. 3 meeting to begin work on a comprehensive plan that will implement zoning ordinances across the county.
Over the summer months, the commissioners held several meetings throughout McKenzie County to assess the issue of zoning. In June, Watford City demonstrated overwhelming support, but other towns, like Cartwright, were not singing the same tune.
The conflicting reactions across the county moved the county commissioners to decide at their July 5 meeting not to host any more informational meetings and not pursue zoning any further.
At the time there was concern that any kind of zoning ordinances would infringe on the rights of individual landowners.
Chairman of the county commissioners, Roger Chinn, was quoted as saying, “We don’t know if it was the right or wrong decision. We’ll just have to wait and see what happens.”
The zoning issues facing McKenzie County continued to resurface, however, with neighboring counties and eight of McKenzie County’s own townships enacting their own zoning regulations. Many in the county felt at that time that there was no other option but to implement some sort of comprehensive regulation.
More informational meetings were hosted in November and December, but focused more on the idea of land use planning as opposed to zoning.
Land use planning would have designated land for specific use, but would not have instituted ordinances or rules that businesses or individuals would have to follow. Land use planning, however, would not have solved all the problems concerning growth and economic development.
“People are concerned with day care, law enforcement, trash and traffic. But not all of those are solvable by land use planning,” said Gene Veeder, McKenzie County Job Development Authority executive director, in regard to land use planning.
Though conflicting opinions and desires to maintain as much freedom as possible for landowners gave the county commissioners pause, the rampant growth that has boomed rather haphazardly all over the county outweighed all their doubts.
Which is why the McKenzie County Commissioners decided last Tuesday, Jan. 3, in a 4 - 0 vote to begin work on formulating a comprehensive zoning plan.
County officials have done some proactive work and documentation in hopes that some sort of zoning ordinance would be enacted. Now that those hopes have come to fruition, more concrete numbers can be defined and assessed.
“The vote was not the hard thing,” says Dale Patten, McKenzie County commissioner. “It’s making the ordinances effective that will be difficult.”
The initial step to building a zoning plan will be to form a planning committee. The committee will contain nine individuals, two from the city government of the county seat, Watford City, two from the county government and five at-large individuals who will be approved by the commission. The hope is to form the committee as quickly as possible in order to commence working out the plan’s details.
Deidre Berquist, McKenzie County’s Tax Equalization director, will sit on the planning board as a county government official. She hopes that the board will work as thoroughly and quickly as possible to have a plan ready to present to the commission for final approval, which at the very earliest would be sometime this spring.
Whatever the zoning plan comes to include, businesses, homes, man camps, skid shacks, modulars and temporary housing units, such as RVs, campers and mobile homes, etc. that are already in place and are currently legal will be grandfathered in once zoning becomes enforceable. This also applies to townships that have already drafted their own zoning ordinances.
Berquist knows the county needs a better handle on what is being built and where. As things are now, individuals and companies are doing whatever they please. There are no regulations forcing them to get approval or permits or even report at all to the county.
Along with having a better idea of what is going on throughout McKenzie County, zoning will affect tax revenue. It will allow the county to implement much stauncher regulations and produce more tax dollars.
“Zoning will be a huge boost for county tax revenue,” explains Berquist.
“This isn’t an end-all answer,” explains Patten. “But even though it’s just another tool we can use to handle and manage the fast growth, it would be difficult to go forward without it.”
The institution of zoning may seem to some to be unnecessary, but the rampant and unchecked growth demands planning and regulation, a fact the McKenzie County Commissioners agree with. Zoning will effectively make land use, taxation and regulation viable in trying to control the growth explosion in McKenzie County.
The commissioners are looking for five individuals to serve on the Zoning and Land Use Planning Committee. Anyone interested can contact Berquist at the McKenzie County Courthouse at 444-6852 or one of the McKenzie County Commissioners.