Subdivision sent back to county with no recommendation

A planned subdivision in Eureka Township, north of Minot, continues its journey back and forth among public boards and commissions after it was sent back up to the Ward County Commission Thursday night by county Planning and Zoning commissioners.

Planning and Zoning sent it back without recommending either approval or denial, which is at least one step closer for developers who were given a denial at last month’s meeting.

Commissioner John Fjeldahl did make a motion to approve recommendation of the subdivison because it met all of the county’s ordinances but that motion failed. Only Fjeldahl and commissioner Shelly Weppler, who was voted interim chair for the meeting due to the absence of both Chairman Kevin Connole and Vice Chairman Don Siebert, voted in favor. The remaining three commissioners David Kopp, Amy Moen and Norman Livingston voted against it.

And, like other meetings surrounding it, Thursday night’s discussion was full of points and counterpoints and verged dangerously close to personal attacks and accusations from either side of the issue.

Northrop Acres began its planned life as 61 lots composed primarily of 1.5 acres. That was half an acre lower than the required size for a buildable rural residential lot by county standards and 3.5 acres smaller than Eureka Township’s own standard of 5 acres. They got a variance from the township to be under their rules, but when met with opposition from the county Planning and Zoning Commission the developers, ST Development LLC, decided to come back with a more favorable design that wouldn’t require petitioning for a variance.

The current plan for Northrop Acres is a 41 2 acre lots along U.S. Highway 83 and between 72nd and 86th Avenue Northwest.

For or against

With fewer lots to sell, though, the size and costs of the homes has gone up, as well, to make up for the profit discrepancy between the two plans. Regardless of the $200,000 to $280,000 prices for homes planned there, at least one commissioner saw any additional housing as a major improvement.

“One of the primary problems in the western part of the state, and it isn’t as bad here as it is in Watford City and those areas, but people can’t afford to live around here,” Fjeldahl said. “So, when anything’s done in an effort to try to accomodate that, it’s better for the region.”

A resident of the township, who was in favor of the project, spoke at the meeting about how Eureka Township, with a population of just under 400 according to 2010 U.S. Census Bureau data, has historically “struggled” financially to provide for services. A new subdivision, the resident argued, could bolster that tax base.

Another resident who spoke in favor of the project spoke of commercial developments in the area. He claimed he lives nearby the site and areas used by commercial properties tended to be dirty and trashy. He said he would prefer residential development because it wouldn’t be as dirty. He also added that claims that the vast majority of township residents being opposed to the development was “untrue.”

That provoked a reaction out of Livingston, who has been adamantly opposed to the project and had spoken as a resident at Tuesday’s Ward County Commission meeting expressing his concerns, including a claim that a “show of hands” of residents at a recent Eureka Township Board meeting showed over 90 percent of people opposed to the project.

Livingston spoke again, as a resident, at Thursday’s planning meeting and excused himself temporarily from his role as a commissioner to go up to the lectern to run through more complaints he had against the project. Ward County State’s Attorney Rozanna Larson said that he wouldn’t have to abstain from voting, even if personally opposed to a project, unless there was a monetary conflict of interest.

When he spoke this time he again spoke of the show of hands and general consensus against the project. He also had four letters opposed to the project that he was unable to read because, as a speaker, he was held to a two-minute time constraint imposed on each speaker. He also said that the area “is not suited to residential, whether it’s zoned that way or not,” and that a mound sewer system is prone to failure in winter.

He also said that there is no good access to U.S. Highway 83, a 70 mph road, and that a recent traffic study showed 13,000 cars a day travelled there.

Another resident opposed to the subdivision, who also claimed to be the one who asked for the show of hands at the meeting and backs up the idea that a supermajority was opposed, asked “where’s the natural progression of the city as far as growing within the boundaries right now instead of expanding outside …?” He suggested that a more concentrated growth, which he claims not to be opposed to, would be better than a less controlled growth that Livingston later defined as “spot zoning” growth.

The project also has support from the Minot Rural Fire Department and some concerned residents due to the inclusion of a fire substation there which would allow for faster fire response.

Minot Public Schools has also confirmed that the area falls in their jurisdiction and they are willing and able to provide education to children who live there.

End game

Despite the failure of the motion to recommend the subdivision’s passage, the commissioners opposed to the subdivision had a very hard time coming up with a motion for legal denial.

“You have your ordinances you have to follow. So, if you’re going to deny it you better have some reasons according to our ordinances on why you’re going to deny it,” said Larson. “You need to give them directions on what they need to do in order to get approved.”

The issue, though, tended toward those opposed for reasons outside of ordinances. Some were emotional, others were based upon safety concerns or feelings that the project lacked vision for the Minot area’s future, ordered growth.

“You see, that is why I vote to approve this, because it follows what we set up as a county,” said Fjeldahl. “The way I look at it this follows what the county has set up as guidelines for development and … the majority of the time we go with what the township board recommends and approves. That being said, both those things are in place to approve this, and that’s why I support this.”

“Amy (Moen, who also serves on City of Minot Commission), you’re aware that the long range city plan shows that the land alongside Highway 83, the ‘Highway 83 corridor,’ all the land immediately along it so far out should be commercial according to the maps. And this is not commercial, this is housing, this is residential,” said Livingston. “So, what kind of reason could I have to make a motion to recommend denial? I’ll tell you what. It can’t be the fact that the residents are against it, that doesn’t fit. It can’t be that the land is not suited, according to people who have farmed it for 24 years, to residential development, that doesn’t fit.”

And so back the project goes, without recommendation, for another round.