Posted 5/09/12 (Wed)
By Neal A. Shipman
It’s easy for city government, especially for city councils in small communities like Watford City, to be overly nice and welcoming to people who come to town and say that they want to help with some of our growing pains.
While being welcoming and nice to people wanting to do business in a community is obviously the right choice for city government, city government also has an obligation to maintain the character and quality of life to those people who are living there as well. So when city government chooses to overlook its ordinances when it comes to enforcing residential or commercial zoning, it sets itself up for some very tough future decisions.
Once city government decides to look the other way or city council members tell themselves that not enforcing a certain city ordinance helps solve an immediate problem, they begin a perilous journey down a very slippery slope.
And Watford City’s City Council has found itself on a couple of those slippery slopes as a result of trying to be too nice to those who believe that if the council would just not enforce an ordinance, things would be better.
Take for instance, the need for housing for all of the oilfield workers that moved into Watford City when the boom began just a few short years ago. With virtually no apartments or other forms of rental housing available, the quick and easy answer to the problem was for the city to allow “temporary housing” within city limits. While no one really understood what “temporary housing” was at the time, the residents of Watford City quickly came to realize that seeing skid shacks and other types of this housing was not what they wanted to see in their neighborhoods or in town.
With “temporary housing” sprouting up like dandelions, it didn’t take the city long to realize that they had to enforce the residential zoning rules that they had and to enact new rules that ultimately put a moratorium on “temporary housing” units within the city limits.
The second slippery slope, and one that the city council is still struggling to control, has been the conversion of single family homes within single family neighborhoods into oil company housing where multiple non-family related individuals live. Or when a single family home owner decides to either rent out their home to a group of individuals or to remodel their basement and turn it into multiple sleeping rooms, again for rent.
The latest slippery slope that the city council has had to deal with has been the proliferation of food trucks within the city limits. At first, everyone welcomed these new food vendors to town as they offered people the chance to grab something new and quick to eat. But with the city now seeing these food vendors showing up on every corner, in motel parking lots and just off business frontages in recent weeks, the city council had a choice to make. Should the council follow its zoning requirements, which will in essence force all of the food trucks out of the city limits or onto the fairgrounds; should the council just look away from its current ordinances and give the food trucks free rein to set up where they like; or should the council draft new ordinances that would allow food truck vendors within the city limits?
Again, a very tough choice to make. But on Monday, the city council made the right decision by deciding to enforce its current zoning ordinances and require the food trucks to move out of the city limits.
As the city council found out with the “temporary housing” issue, no one was going to build new apartment buildings in Watford City so long as the city allowed skid shacks or man camps within the city limits. And likewise, why would someone want to come into town and build a new restaurant, pay taxes and follow city ordinances, when it would be far cheaper and less risky to simply drive in with a food shack and set up shop.
If a community wants to have quality housing, more retail and commercial development, then it must be willing to create an environment that will protect those individuals who are willing to make a long-term investment from those who prefer to be in it for the quick buck.
As Watford City’s City Council has found, a community is very attractive to the right developers when they know the slippery slope has been replaced with a level playing field with everyone following the same rules.