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City moves to end temporary workforce housing

Posted 11/10/15 (Tue)

By Neal A. Shipman
Farmer Editor

The Watford City City Council has given the owners of temporary workforce housing units within the city limits their marching orders. On Monday, Nov. 2, the council rejected a Planning and Zoning Committee recommendation to continue an annual review of Conditional Use Permits (CUP) for temporary workforce housing.
The council gave the owners of those conditional use permits a deadline of Dec. 1, 2016, to bring their temporary housing units into compliance with city zoning requirements or see their conditional use permits expire.
According to Brent Sanford, Watford City mayor, the slowdown in oil activity provided the city with the opportunity to once again review whether or not to continue issuing conditional use permits for temporary workforce housing.
“Five to six years ago, the city needed places to park campers and skid shacks,” stated Sanford. “Those owners were granted conditional use permits to provide housing.”
But according to Sanford, times have changed in Watford City as more apartment buildings have been built and the need for temporary workforce housing units has decreased.
“A small group of people have been able to operate outside of the city’s zoning,” stated Sanford. “The issue keeps coming up as to when do these housing units have to come into compliance. That is why we are looking at a one year time zone before those conditional use permits expire.”
While the prospect of seeing their conditional use permits expire brought concerns from several of the holders of the conditional use permits, Doug Bolken, city councilman said the city is going to work with each individual owner.
“There are options that you may have to come into compliance,” stated Bolken. “You may be able to rezone your property to either a CG or R2M zoning. You have one year to transition to a zoning that will fit.”
But according to Ray Morken, who owns the BBR RV Park, which is operating under a conditional use permit, he doesn’t want to operate a RV park where people stay only a week.
“The people who are staying in our camper spots want to live there and not in an apartment building,” stated Morken. “They don’t know how long they are going to be here and don’t want to sign a long-term lease for an apartment.”
According to Sanford, today there are fewer than 10 individuals operating temporary workforce housing under CUPs that provide housing for less than 100 people.
While the council unanimously approved creating the Dec. 1, 2016, expiration date for temporary workforce housing conditional use permits within the city limits, Marty Mulder, city councilman, wondered if the city council would next look at similar CUPs with the city’s ETA.
“Will we go after those temporary workforce housing CUPs in the ETA next?” questioned Mulder.
While Curt Moen, city planner, said the city would look at those permits, the issue involving those CUPs is more complicated.
“All of the temporary workforce housing CUPs outside the city limits were granted by the county,” stated Moen. “When they became part of the city’s ETA, those CUPs were grand-fathered in.”
Moen noted that according to the McKenzie County Zoning Department, there are over 10,000 campers located in the county.
“We can’t say ‘no way’ to campers in the ETA and within the county,” stated Sanford. “But the county is looking at making sure that those CUPs in the county are legal and safe. And for those that are located within the city’s ETA, we will check to make sure that they are in compliance with how they were grand-fathered in.”