Posted 6/29/11 (Wed)
By Neal A. Shipman
While McKenzie County seems to have gotten along just fine the past 100 years with a “no zoning” approach to land use planning, the winds of progress may be forcing the county commissioners and county residents to rethink that philosophy.
Last Wednesday evening, the county commissioners held the first of two public input meetings in the county to determine the public’s interest in zoning. And if the opinions of those county residents who attended a public input meeting in Watford City are indicative, there seems to be good support for some form of zoning.
“Everybody knows that things have worked without zoning in McKenzie County for the past 100 years,” stated Dale Patten, McKenzie County commissioner. “But things are different today, and we (the McKenzie County Commissioners) are trying to decide how we’re going to handle the development requests that we are getting.”
According to Patten, concerns that have been popping up around the county because of the increased oil activity in the area include scoria pits, roadside parking, reclamation, traffic impacts, man camps, truck yards and county approved subdivisions, just to name a few.
“We have large commercial scoria pits in operation around the county that are causing dust control problems,” stated Patten. “The county is currently spending $100,000 on dust control and the dust around these pits is affecting people, livestock and crops.”
While dust is one thing, public safety and what the county is going to look like in five, 10 or 20 years is another. And with all of the development occurring around the county, the commissioners are very concerned.
“We’re concerned with the public’s safety when it comes to the roadside parking that is occurring where trucks are parking on county roads while waiting at fresh water sites or at salt water disposal sites,” stated Patten. “But we’re also concerned about what the county is going to look like when the man camps, the truck yards and the scoria pits are gone.”
With some form of zoning, according to Patten, the county would be able to establish rules that govern how areas such as these would be developed. And more importantly, zoning would allow the county to set regulations reclaiming the land once the development goes away.
And by and large, the majority of the people attending Wednesday’s meeting shared Patten’s concerns and were in favor of some form of zoning laws in the county.
“You have no choice,” stated Carol Norgard, who lives south of Arnegard. “If we are going to have a county that we are going to want to live in, we have to move forward on zoning quickly.”
Echoing Norgard’s feeling that zoning is needed was Dennis Johnson, who lives near Johnson Corners.
“All of the counties around us have zoning,” stated Johnson. “It (zoning) provides for checks and balances. Where you don’t have zoning, you have a hodgepodge of development with pipe yards next to schools, etc.”
According to Johnson, he has a scoria pit on his property and would not object to having a bond requirement for reclaiming the site.
“The idea behind this is county planning,” stated Johnson. “Having bonding requirements is a good idea and so is establishing density of housing standards. I think the choice is what do we want the county to be in 20, 30 or 50 years from now - not just today.”
Richard Johnson, who farms southwest of Watford City, believes that many of the problems that the county is facing could have been prevented if zoning had been in place.
“If we would have had zoning earlier, we might not have some of the development along the highway that we now do,” stated Johnson. “If it was up to me, I’d tell you to keep looking at zoning laws. We need a package that can work throughout the county.”
Even new residents to McKenzie County encouraged the commissioners to move forward with some form of land use planning to protect individual’s property.
“What you are seeing here is a carpetbagger mentality,” stated Josh Mackenzie, who moved to Watford City two years ago from Rifle, Colo. “If there is no zoning, things go out of control. I’d like to protect the investment that I’ve made in the property that I bought and my house. Zoning is not about controlling, it’s about protecting.”
But not everyone thought that zoning was the answer.
“I travel the whole county with my work,” stated Don Moberg. “The man camps are clean and having these camps spread out around the county is good because it keeps worker’s travel times to the rigs shorter.”
But some, including Commissioner Roger Chinn of Grassy Butte, wonders whether or not government should have the right to decide how something is zoned.
“Should we be the ones who decide what is going to be zoned agriculture or industrial?” questioned Chinn. “Based on the zoning, land zoned as one is going to be worth more than the other.”
But it is just that difference between zoning classifications that some people think is necessary to protect everyone’s property values.
“We have a railroad in the western part of the county,” stated Commissioner Richard Cayko from East Fairview. “And with all of the economic development that is occurring along the railroad, industrial development is butting up against residential areas. It’s an economic boom for the people selling the land. But it is not for the people who are living there. We should have some kind of planning.”
While the county commissioners took no formal action following Wednesday night’s public input meeting. According to Chinn, if the commission decides to proceed, it will be required to hold further public meetings, and ultimately create a nine-member Planning Commission.