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Posted 8/24/11 (Wed)

By Neal A. Shipman
Farmer Editor

There is no one who is going to deny that there is a critical need for housing in Watford City, as well as virtually every other small community in northwestern North Dakota that is feeling the impact of the upsurge in oil development.
With very few developers coming forward to build single family or multi-family housing in our communities to meet the huge need for housing, the obvious answer to meet the housing crunch was for cities to allow the development of temporary workforce housing units or man camps as they are commonly called.
But the proliferation of temporary workforce housing units has spread to the point that they are being erected on virtually every piece of property that is adjacent to a good road and has access to either city or rural water service. In the case of Watford City, there are man camps seemingly everywhere. They are one of the first things that anyone entering the city limits from Highways 85 and 23 see as they arrive from the south, the east or the west. If there was a piece of property that was zoned for commercial or industrial use, developers came to the city council requesting a conditional use permit to provide for temporary workforce housing. And now, the city is literally overrun with temporary workforce housing to the point that if someone wanted to build a new business, restaurant or motel within the city limits, they can’t because there is no suitable land available.
And now that the city has received a $12.3 million grant to expand its water and sewer service one mile outside the existing city limits to serve the extra territorial service area (ETA), guess who wants to be the first in line to hook up to these new services?
The answer isn’t new retail stores, truck stops, motels, restaurants or housing subdivisions. Again it is developers who want to build even more temporary workforce housing units.
Which is why the Watford City City Council, at a special meeting, decided it was finally time to say “enough is enough” and to put a moratorium on issuing conditional use permits for any more temporary workforce housing units within the city limits or within the city’s ETA.
Considering the continued housing shortage in the city, it was a tough call for the city council to make. But it was also the right call for the council to make. If Watford City is going to have land available, especially within the ETA for developers to build homes and apartments, as well as other forms of development other than temporary work force housing, land with city water and sewer services needs to be available for them to do so.
While the city council is to be applauded for making this tough decision, there is an obvious downside to their action. Now that developers interested in building more temporary workforce housing no longer have the option of doing so within the city limits or within the one mile ETA that surrounds Watford City, that only leaves them one choice. That choice is to build these facilities somewhere else in the county. And unfortunately, since McKenzie County does not have zoning ordinances that means that, other than whatever state regulations that the developers must follow when it comes to handling of waster water, there will be no oversight or control of these new man camps. And for our rural residents, who may soon find themselves becoming neighbors to these developments, that is a troubling thought.