Ordinances have park board members concerned

Members of the Minot Park Board expressed concern Wednesday, with ordinances under consideration that would affect development of new park spaces in the city.

“Rejected it why?” wondered commissioner Robert Petry, encapsulating the concerns and confusion felt by his fellow board members at Wednesday’s Minot Park Board planning committee meeting. Under discussion was the packet of ordinances being discussed by an ad hoc committee of the Minot Planning Department, which in particular would mandate the forming of homeowners associations to develop land dedicated for private parkspace and the maintenance thereof.

“Costs would be on the backs of property owners in perpetuity,” argued commissioner Connie Feist, adding the ordinances would be “absolutely the worst thing for our community.”

Of specific concern was a clause specifying the need for an amenity’s construction if there are no parks within a half-mile of the development. The park board is concerned that this would in effect produce a number of “pocket parks,” whose functions would lack an overall sense of coordination and create redundancies. Also, the homeowners association fees would be paid in addition to property taxes and there could be potential problems with enforcement of upkeep and public safety standards.

A proposal the park district had submitted to the planning department last October has been subsequently disregarded, and its board has felt excluded from consultation on the ordinances currently being considered. The district’s future land use plan would have called for a collaboration between developers or property owners and the park district on faciilty expansion, requiring either lands or funds to be dedicated toward public park usage that would be managed by the district. Meetings and agreements would have to take place prior to receiving plat approval from the city.

“That proposal has met with some resistance, has been straight-up ignored,” Feist said. In her opinion, the district was “not being worked with,” either on its proposal or the ones being considered. “It seems like we’re just being stonewalled.”

That the measures are being considered at all is reflective of Minot’s rapid expansion, which is putting a strain on its resources and infrastructure. Without having to raise property taxes, the city is looking at various means to keep public services on pace with new development. The problem in reaching that end has been a perceived lack of interdepartmental communication, which the park board is trying to rectify with a meeting today at the staff-level.

“We want a commitment from them that they aren’t going to move forward without at least consulting us,” explained John Drady.

Any proposals would be put forward to the Minot Planning Commission, an advisory body to the Minot City Council on development matters.

“I’d like to at least see what their response is from this meeting, to try and get an answer from them,” Drady said.

Parks director Ron Merritt has been looking into alternatives to the original future use proposal, particularly a plan currently under consideration in Mandan and used in communities in Wisconsin similar to Minot which would tie contribution to unit permits. Rather than a land dedication, new single-unit permits would have a fee of perhaps $500 that would go toward a park fund for the development; multi-unit permits such as townhouses and apartments would have a different cost, a $250 fee per unit being discussed. That money would be collected into a fund, to be used for purchasing land, putting in amenities, parking, and other such fixtures.

A potential downside to such a plan would be that the collection of fees would be incomplete until later stages of development, coming in piecemeal with permit applications rather than up-front.

“You’d be behind the curve,” conceded Feist, while adding that the upshot would be a greater flexibility in planning.

Land development is to some degree speculative, and the board consensus was that it would be a waste of resources if the park district was tied to building facilities in a development that failed to materialize.

“If they don’t get built then we don’t have to move forward with it,” said Merritt. “We’d rather be in control of that.” Assessment “by permit fees would be the simplest way.”

“Either option provides us with the flexibilty we want,” Feist said of the courses being considered. “We want to maintain our flexibility.”