Planning and zoning sends fees back to commission

The Ward County Planning and Zoning commission sent back county building fee schedules to Ward County commissioners at their regular meeting Thursday night.

The schedule for building inspection fines was retained for planning and zoning and building inspection staff to further refine and will be reexamined during October’s planning and zoning meeting.

The schedules, identifed as “A” and “B” establishing building fees for various uses and “C” for fines associated with building inspection violations, were in hostile territory at Tuesday’s county commission meeting. Schedule C, the one retained for another month, drew the most ire from some commissioners, particularly Jerome Gruenberg who felt that some of the penalties were too harsh when a permit has already been established and building must go on whether an inspector is available or not.

County commissioner John Fjeldahl, who serves on both the planning and zoning and county commissions, had moved to send the schedules back at the regular commission meeting Tuesday. He was unanimously elected as interim chairman for the planning and zoning meeting due to the absence of both chairman Kevin Connole and vice-chairman Don Siebert.

In the end, based on a motion by county commissioner Shelly Weppler, Schedule A will be returned to the county more in line with what they had requested. The fees will be based on those of Grand Forks County.

“Schedule A would reduce those costs especially for larger subdivisions of multiple lots,” Dana Larsen, the county highway engineer and planning and zoning staffer, said after the meeting. “So that’s what will be going back to the commission.”

“Let’s just say I’m talking about larger subdivisions of maybe 15 or 20 lots, the new schedule will probably be less for those larger subdivision. When you’re in a seven or eight lot subdivision it’s probably going to be a similar price,” he added.

No changes were made to Schedule B, which didn’t draw much criticism at the county meeting.

Schedule C fines for building inspection violations were drawn up by county building inspector Mike Larson and are exactly like those used in Williston. The idea was to give the building inspector “teeth,” as Ward County State’s Attorney Roza Larson described it at the meeting, to enforce violations.

Some commissioners took exception to the idea, though, that the building inspector could enforce the fines loosely based on prior dealings, or lack thereof, with contractors. Further, the fine categories were defined as “pretty vague” by Fjeldahl who prefaced it by saying that he’s “not opposed to fines to punish those who don’t follow the rules.”

Weppler agreed, adding that she “doesn’t want there to be a difference in how these are enforced so” she believes “in defined fines.”

Appeal granted

Upon a second review, a Rice Lake Recreation District couple was granted a permit to build their home slightly closer to a roadway than current county rules allow.

The woman had come to planning and zoning last month with a crudely drawn map of the property and attempted to outline her intentions with it, but it just wasn’t enough detail for the commissioners and they had to have her come back with a more detailed outline.

She did, with a map made in Microsoft Excel software that she claims took her “8 1/2 hours to make.”

Various problems were encountered with the idea, most of them having to do with snow removal along the road and being too close to the lot boundary.

Dana Larson did allow that two lots over there was a garage that practically sits on the land line and that the road was actually not centered on the center line of the county right-of-way but was actually shifted by perhaps a couple of feet away from the couple’s lot.

On snow removal, however, he said that snow piling against a house was a lot different than piling against the evergreen trees closer to the road.

The couple wanted to build it farther from the floodwaters and on higher ground out of any danger of flooding. Should they go with their second choice drawn on the map, they would have to build a protective wall and build on fill. The lot is incapable of having flood insurance no matter what, the woman claimed, and so she is trying her best to avoid losing more property.

“I don’t anticipate Rice Lake being this high again,” Fjeldahl said.

“I hope not,” the woman said in excitement with a laugh. “I’ve lost enough property already, as you can see.”

In the end, all commissioners voted in her favor except for Fjeldahl.

At that, the woman said “Yes!” excitedly, making the entire room laugh.