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Commission takes no action on man camp moratorium

Posted 7/17/13 (Wed)

By Kate Ruggles
Farmer Staff Writer

It was close to two years ago when the McKenzie County Commissioners considered putting a temporary moratorium on temporary housing in the county. Because a moratorium on temporary housing couldn’t be enacted without zoning in place, the commissioners tabled the discussion and went through the process of establishing zoning ordinances.
But now former McKenzie County Commissioner Dale Patten, is wondering if it is time to reconvene the discussion.
On June 26, Patten wrote a letter asking the county commissioners to consider implementing a six-month moratorium on any conditional use permits and building permits related to new temporary housing permit applications, as well as permits for the expansion of existing temporary housing projects.
“I made this request of the commissioners because I thought it was appropriate for discussion purposes,” states Patten. “The city of Watford City took a break from temporary housing, and it was a good decision for them. I thought it would be beneficial for McKenzie County to take a break, in order to evaluate where they want to be as a county.”
Patten feels that temporary housing in McKenzie County is already overbuilt, and the continued expansion of temporary housing units will have a detrimental impact on the development of permanent housing in the county.
“Continuing the increase of temporary developments delays the development of permanent housing, whereas restricting the number of temporary housing increases the demand for permanent housing units,” states Patten. “And permanent units are a contribution and asset, both to the community as well as the county tax base.”
In addition to hurting permanent housing developments, according to Patten, much of the existing temporary housing facilities are non-compliant with county zoning ordinances, but are still legal due to the fact that they existed before the zoning ordinances and were therefore ‘grand-fathered in.’
“Our county has limited resources for water, sewer, roads and law enforcement, along with all sorts of other services,” states Patten. “I believe that these resources need to be reserved for those projects that are providing a permanent solution to our housing shortage and are an investment in the long-term growth of our county.”
Patten further states that temporary housing units tend to correlate with domestic violence, employee dissatisfaction, security issues and problems with criminal activity. And, many of the temporary housing facilities are ignoring the county’s required fee for temporary housing units.
Patten made a request for a six-month moratorium on temporary housing at the July 2 meeting of the McKenzie County Commissioners. However, the commissioners took no action on the request.
“The commission is mixed on this issue,” states Ron Anderson, McKenzie County commissioner. “It still might happen, but it just didn’t that day.”
Anderson states that one of the commission’s biggest concerns, and the primary reason they decided not to act at the July 2 meeting, was the current lack of housing in the county.
“Housing is still so expensive, and not everyone can afford to purchase housing at the current prices,” states Anderson.
Another factor, according to Anderson, was the fact that though neighboring counties have experienced significant criminal and security issues surrounding their temporary housing facilities, the commission was unaware of such issues existing in McKenzie County.
“We haven’t had the reports of violence yet that Williams County has,” states Anderson.
Anderson states that the commission considered the issues surrounding the moratorium request, as well as alternatives to enacting a moratorium.
“One of the things we need to do is get a code enforcer, whether by hiring or contracting,” states Anderson. “If we find some of the temporary housing that is not up to code, and prosecute them, maybe it will force the other non-compliant developments to get in line with the county’s ordinances.”
Kendall Phillips, an employee of Forsgren & Associates, a company that McKenzie County has contracted with to help with building inspection plan reviews and building inspections in the county states that there is not yet an accurate count of temporary housing in McKenzie County.
“We are tracking 134 temporary housing facilities, but I think there is a lot more than what we have,” states Phillips.
One reason is that McKenzie County gave the temporary housing units that existed before county zoning ordinances were in place a one-year break on having to pay the county’s fee, called a Temporary Bed Tax.
With that period of time now over, Phillips has been in the process of identifying units and billing them for the County Temporary Bed Tax.
Though the commission found itself mixed on the issue of a moratorium, Patten’s request did exactly what he hoped it would - begin a discussion about temporary housing developments in McKenzie County.