County approves Eureka subdivision

A controversial housing subdivision in Eureka Township will be allowed to go forward with Tuesday’s approval by the Ward County Commission.

The proposed 41-lot Northrop Acres had been the subject of a series of township, county planning commission and county commission meetings. The matter landed back in the lap of the county commission without a recommendation from planning commissioners, who had been directed to take a second look.

The county commission’s 3 to 2 vote reflected the unsettled arguments that still exist regarding the housing project.

“I don’t like where the plat is because it’s not tied onto a township or county road, and we are going to create another intersection in the middle of a mile line to add to traffic problems on Highway 83 between Minot and the air base. So I have some real issues with it,” commissioner Alan Walter said.

Walter said he could vote for the subdivision only if a developer’s agreement exists that requires building to county specifications and includes construction by the developer of a Minot Rural Fire Department station. He also sought storm water management and traffic studies and a requirement that the developer adopt the studies’ recommendations.

The motion approved by the county contained those stipulations, plus an additional stipulation promoted by commissioner John Fjeldahl that the fire station be completed before any home is occupied. Still, Walter voiced misgivings before voting with commissioner Jerome Gruenberg against the project.

Fjeldahl, who voted with commissioners Jack Nybakken and Shelly Weppler for the project, said the county has no reason to deny the request.

“We have a set of rules and policies and guidelines we have to follow. The developer is following them,” said Fjeldahl, who participated in the meeting by conference call from Florida.

Gruenberg took issue with the three commissioners who supported the project.

“This makes no sense. You are elected to represent the people. What I am hearing is people don’t want it, and so I will not support this,” Gruenberg said.

Gruenberg and Fjeldahl debated how to interpret the position of the majority of Eureka Township residents. Gruenberg cited the 30 to 35 protesters who turned out at meetings compared to a few residents who came in support. Fjeldahl noted that vocal opponents accounted for only about 10 percent of the township population.

Weppler said her vote was guided by the decision of the township board to support the subdivision.

“As a county, we are basing our decision on the decision of another government entity. How they made their decision, I don’t feel I can question,” she said.

Eureka Township originally was presented a plan for 61 lots of 1.5 acres. The township’s master plan requires five-acre lots. The township board approved a variance, and the developer’s new plan for two-acre lots meets the county’s required size. The township’s action troubled Walter, though.

“If they have a master plan, that master plan, in my mind, should be followed,” he said.

Township chairman Gary Granzotto said there was no opposition from the public at a township meeting to allowing smaller lots. With the variance, the developer is meeting the township’s zoning rules, he added.

“In my opinion, it’s either rule by the crowd or rule by law. I believe the zoning ordinance and our comprehensive plan are the laws that need to be equally applied to whoever comes before us,” Granzotto said. “If we vote no, we have to, by Century Code, state why we are denying it, and no valid reasons were raised to deny the zoning change.”

“This country is supposed to be run by the will of the people,” Gruenberg responded. “If you have some issues with the rules that were set up, then maybe those need to be changed. The majority of the people were against this.”

Granzotto said the will of the majority exists not in “mob rule” but in “rule of law equally applied,” causing Gruenberg to take issue with the term “mob rule” in association with township residents.

Granzotto explained that meetings were orderly, but the board had to weigh the laws in place against personal conflicts that could interfere with laws being equally applied.

Although the subdivision was approved, the stipulations must be met for the project to proceed. A representative of the developer at the meeting offered no objection to the stipulations.