Posted 3/27/13 (Wed)
By Kate Ruggles
Farmer Staff Writer
It’s been a little over a year since the McKenzie County Commissioners decided to develop a comprehensive, long-range plan for zoning and zoning ordinances in the county.
The months and years leading up to that moment in February, 2012, were filled with haphazard developments and questions regarding how to deal with that development.
However, since the decision to move forward with zoning, though development has continued, it has done so with more purpose. Especially since the opening of the county zoning office at the end of April in 2012 and the hiring of Walter Hadley as the McKenzie County planner.
According to Hadley, a year is the expected length of time for a zoning plan to come together, and is, on average, how long it takes.
“It takes that long to gather public input, and go through the process of taking that input and putting a plan together,” states Hadley.
Dale Patten, though he retired from his county commissioner seat this year, has continued to help the county with the process of implementing zoning. And he states that giving county residents the opportunity to voice their opinions and give their input was an integral part of making the plan come together.
“There was a wide range of opinions, from those that were strongly in favor to those who were not much in favor,” states Patten. “Even though not everyone got what they wanted, we felt that everyone who participated provided necessary guidance in coming up with a plan.”
According to Hadley and Patten, of all that came out in the public input process, to maintain the county’s agricultural identity was identified as the number one priority of county residents.
“McKenzie County has always been an agricultural county and people would like it to stay that way,” states Hadley.
“Throughout the process, our primary concern became to try and maintain our rural and agricultural heritage, in the midst of all that is going on,” states Patten.
However, both Hadley and Patten state that doing so was definitely a matter of achieving balance. A balance not only between those who were diametrically opposed to or in favor of zoning, but between those who wanted to stay agricultural and those who had other plans.
“The primary issue with zoning in the county has always been private property rights. And whenever you implement zoning, you automatically impact someone’s rights as a land owner,” states Patten. “The balance is respecting those rights while dealing with the impact of exercising those rights on your neighbors and the rest of the community.”
Some of the other issues that came up while the county planning committee was working to develop a balanced plan was increased housing, commercial and industrial developments, as well as the impacts of those developments on the county road infrastructure.
After much hard work and deliberation, a plan was finalized on Monday, March 18, 2013, but it is still, according to Patten, a work in progress.
“Whenever there is as much going on as we have in McKenzie County, it will be difficult to get a plan right the first time,” states Patten. “And all the surrounding areas that have had zoning ordinances in place have made changes in the past few years in order to adapt to what is going on.”
Not every township in McKenzie County deferred to the county’s new zoning plan. Though a majority of them did, according to Hadley, some townships opted to enforce their own zoning ordinances instead.
“They really need to be commended, because they worked their job all day, then came together in the evenings to put a plan in place,” states Hadley. “
Hadley states that the final zoning plan will be put into effect once the required 30-day appeal period is complete, which will be April 26.
“At the end of 30 days, all parts of the ordinance, except the ones that were appealed will be in force,” states Hadley.
Anyone wishing to appeal will only be able to appeal certain and specific sections of the zoning ordinance, and to appeal they must contact the McKenzie County Department of Zoning and Planning. All appeals will then be reviewed by the McKenzie County Commissioners. So according to Hadley, the more specific an appeal is, the more consideration the commissioners will be able to give it.
In the meantime, Hadley states that the planning department will continue moving forward, working on subdivision regulations, development agreements for new developments and an engineering review ordinance.