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Posted 6/29/11 (Wed)

By Neal A. Shipman
Farmer Editor

The old saying goes, “If something isn’t broke, then don’t fix it.” That adage has apparently worked well for McKenzie County for the past 100 years whenever the discussion of zoning in the county has come up.
And to be honest, McKenzie County in the past hasn’t really needed zoning. After all, zoning is something that government considers implementing to preserve property rights and to control unrestrained development that infringes on other people’s property rights.
For the past 100 or so years, there hasn’t been all that much development in the county that would warrant the county commissioners to consider implementing zoning laws.
But that most assuredly is not the case today in McKenzie County in light of the energy development that is resulting in trucking firms and oilfield-related service companies springing up along every paved highway, scoria pits being developed, as well as fresh water depots and salt water disposal sites being developed. And then there are the  man camps and housing subdivisions sprouting up everywhere you can imagine. Throw in a couple of natural gas processing plants and a new railroad terminal system and you quickly realize that what is happening in McKenzie County is not what was happening here just five years ago.
And the worst part is that all of this development could very well just be the beginning of development that is beyond our wildest imagination.
So does the county’s position on rethinking the need for zoning and land use planning need to happen? Absolutely.
From my perspective, the county commissioners needed to be seriously looking at zoning two years ago at the same time that the city of Watford City began its process of trying to regulate what type of development was going to occur on the edges of the city.
If the county would have moved forward with the city in creating a zoning and a land use plan for the entire county, some of the development that we see today could have been better controlled.
And the important words here are “better controlled.” Zoning, in and of itself, does not prohibit development. What good zoning does is provide the county commission and the citizens of the county with an opportunity to say how a proposed development is going to occur and what established county rules and regulations the developers must follow.
Looking around McKenzie County today, it is safe to say that most county residents that are living in the vicinity of any of the new developments probably wish that there had been some form of zoning already in place that may have given them some protection. But all the wishing in the world is not going to change what has already happened.
We need to learn from what we are seeing today. And we must recognize that unless we, as county commissioners and county residents, decide that the time has come to quickly move forward with the enactment of some form of county zoning ordinances and the creation of a county land use plan, how McKenzie County will look in the future is not going to be in our hands. The decision of how our county will look will be in the hands of out-of-state developers.
And without zoning to protect us, that is truly a scary thought.