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County looks to have new land use plan by June

Posted 2/16/16 (Tue)

By Amy Robinson
Farmer Staff Writer

To continue on in their strategy of executing a new comprehensive plan for McKenzie County’s future development, the county is taking the next step forward by hosting a set of public meetings on Feb. 23 and 24.
“The comprehensive plan is the vision of the future of the county,” said Jim Talbert, McKenzie County Planning and Zoning director. “The plan includes goals and objectives for the future that relate to land usage, transportation, infrastructure, housing, and economic development. Once our comprehensive plan is approved, all zoning decisions are to be based upon our comprehensive plan.”
The public meetings will be held on Tuesday, Feb. 23, at 6 p.m., in Alexander at the City Hall, which is located at 112 Manning Avenue. And the second meeting will be held on Wednesday, Feb. 24, at 6 p.m., in the County Courthouse in Watford City, which is located at 201 5th Street NW.
Talbert says that the county has been going through the existing comprehensive plan for the past several months because what is currently established in the plan is inadequate. He says they have been looking at the existing conditions in the county as they are, and they went as far as hiring a consulting firm out of Bismarck, SRF Consulting, who has been helping the county in their mission to update and refine the county’s comprehensive plan. Talbert says they are looking at areas that aren’t up to par or ‘up to speed’ as the county would like to see them.
“SRF consultants have been helping us out in this process,” stated Talbert. “They went throug h the entire county - parcel by parcel. They located transmission pipelines, residential housing developments, commercial developments, agriculture property, and existing infrastructure. We needed to know what is all out there in our county. And from their work, we were able to create an opportunities and constraints map.”
Talbert says that after the rapid pace of 2014 and with the slowdown, they’ve had a chance to go back and see what did and didn’t work, and come up with a better plan to make it what it should be. Talbert states that their comprehensive plan is a 10-year plan that will look at six to seven different elements, which will help them to choose areas that allow for growth, which has the proper infrastructure such as roads, water, and sewer.
“The problem with the existing comprehensive plan is that planners come in, look at the big scale map, and highlight the area they want,”  stated Talbert. “It’s backwards here and we’re trying to correct the problem. We’ve come up with opportunities and strengths and are looking at where the development needs to be. With the opportunities and constraints map, we also had the public come and mark where they feel we should have future development or places they felt we needed to stay away from.”
Out of the first public workshops held at the end of January, Talbert says patterns have developed. The citizens of McKenzie County have their ideas, and combined with the opportunities and constraints map, the county is hoping to come up with potential growth areas out of those results.
“From the first two public workshops,” Talbert stated, “we learned of the areas the public said we should definitely look at in consideration of future development including the southwest part of Watford City, the Alexander area along U.S. Highway 85 up to Highway 200, the Cartwright area, the Keene area, the Johnson Corners area, the Grassy Butte area, and along U.S. Highway 85 - in the Tri-Township area.”
 Not only did the county learn what areas of the county citizens felt would be ideal areas for future development, they also learned that about 80 to 90 percent of the attendees surveyed said that new development should be happening around existing cities and development. And the county agreed.
“In the new plan, we are trying to concentrate on the growth in identified areas where we are using the criteria of existing infrastructure and surrounding established services,” stated Talbert. “We want to stay in areas where we can maintain the roads better. If we have to build roads everywhere, the financial bill just gets to be too much. And with the limited resources we do have, we want to spread those as far as we can.”
So for example, if a planner or developer comes into McKenzie County and wants to build, they’ll have to first go to the comprehensive plan. Talbert says the plan can be revised, but he wants to caution that revising it can be difficult because there are always unknown circumstances, such as pipelines that the county may not know are in the ground in that specific area. Then, the planner or developer will have to meet the zoning standards that will be in place, including the standards for the specific type of development area, whether it be agricultural area land, housing development land, or industrial area land.
From the the comprehensive plan, the county knows that 99 percent of the county is agricultural land, and the last one percent makes up everything else. Talbert says approximately one-third of that one percent is mining operation area, which includes scoria and gravel pits. Another quarter to one-half of that one percent is industrial-use land. And less that one-third of that one percent is residential development area. Talbert adds that a fairly small portion is commercial area land.
“From the surveys we sent out and the feedback we received from the first set of public workshops, the county has made a plan for all these different areas, as a starting point,” says Talbert. “It’s a good starting point to allow for discussion from the county’s citizens about our future land use. We will have these various concepts up on display at the next set of meetings and the public will be able to write their thoughts up on the maps, both positive and negative. This plan is not meant to be the final say. It’s a process - a good starting point. It’s to present potential concepts for input.”
Following the next set of meetings toward the end of February, the county will develop preferred alternatives and make revisions to the comprehensive plan in March to take before the Planning and Zoning Commission as well as the McKenzie County Commissioners to get approved. Talbert hopes that by June, a full plan will be adopted for the county.