Ordinance update

The consensus in Minot is that the city’s zoning code needs updating. Interest groups have a ways to go, though, to reach agreement on what a new zoning code should look like.

City planners and consultants cite data gathered at comprehensive plan

meetings to claim that residents want more focus on appearance and aesthetics. Realtors, developers and builders say that their customers want affordability, which can’t happen if zoning rules get too meddlesome.

A draft code, under review by the Minot Planning Commission since October, has sparked enough controversy that the commission decided to create community subcommittees to study it further.

Eric Wanner with Future Builders, a board member of Minot Association of Builders, said proposed design standards go too far. For instance, requiring a window or door on the side of a house creates the potential for neighbors to have sight line into each other’s homes. Rather than requiring a house to face the street, the builder’s association wants house placement left up to the homeowner.

The association called aesthetic components of many of the proposed ordinances “over-reaching and intrusive.” The city planning department should not be making judgments about whether shingles are garish or exterior siding colors aren’t right, according to the association’s discussion points.

“The market should advance in accordance with the principles of free enterprise, and the customer should ultimately be able to decide what their house looks like,” the association stated.

Tina Goodroad, project manager with the city’s consultant, Stantec, said at a planning meeting Tuesday that the design provisions are meant to prevent a monotonous look in developments and to ensure that a building is compatible with neighboring properties.

“A good, solid ordinance will protect you from someone constructing something much less desirable,” she said. “We are not trying to write these zoning ordinances for one group of people. We are trying to write ordinances that would affect the good of the entire community.”

According to the Association of Builders, the 2011 flood altered public opinion from the sentiments expressed during public hearings on a comprehensive plan. People who were concerned about aesthetics now are concerned about affordability. Minot needs to look at policies in other flooded communities and investigate how those communities addressed replacing affordable housing stock that was destroyed, the association recommends.

Some other concerns of the association are greater setback requirements from roads and on side yards and mandates for homeowners associations in certain developments.

Goodroad explained that homeowners associations may be necessary to ensure that the city isn’t saddled with maintenance of amenities, such as parks, that are included in developments.

Wanner said the ordinances need clarification because too many items are open to interpretation. He added that implementation of the ordinances should be pushed back to 2014 or later so as to not adversely affect projects already started.

The planning commission has indicated that projects started under the current ordinances will not be retroactively affected. However, developers with properties already platted are concerned that their projects could be upset by new rules that would apply to future actions, such as subdividing or building.

There is a need to clarify language related to land development, said Rolly Ackerman with Ackerman Surveying & Associates. As currently written, sections of the code make references to other sections, which isn’t as straight-forward as some would like it to be.

“My biggest concern is just to get it right,” Ackerman said. “It needs to be black-and-white the best that we can.”

Like builders, developers are concerned about restrictions on how much of a property can be built upon, Ackerman said. A two-acre lot in a rural residential area in the city’s two-mile jurisdiction could have buildings on only a 93-foot by 93-foot space. That is inadequate for a house and accessory buildings to accommodate livestock or hobbies such as wood-working or auto restoration, he said.

The ordinances also should distinguish between residential agriculture zoning and single-family residential in rural areas, he said. Residential agriculture allows animals, but many people moving to rural subdivisions don’t want animals next door.

The Minot Board of Realtors has formed a task force that will be reviewing the ordinances and developing a list of proposed changes.

Some concerns relate to requirements for homeowner associations, restrictions on the percent of properties that can be built upon and landscaping requirements.

“There’s some good things they are requiring,” said Ashleigh Collins, board president. “Some of the landscaping and some of the land usages are excellent, but there’s just some tweaking that we felt needs to be done. We are very happy with the subcommittee that was formed to give us time and input. I think that was a very wise decision.”