Council gives extension for temporary housing units

Residents facing a deadline to remove temporary housing units from private lots have received a stay until June 16, and possibly longer if they can show they have a plan for completing repairs on their houses.

The Minot City Council on Monday extended a deadline that had been June 1. A number of people who bought their temporary housing units from the Federal Emergency Management Agency had pled for extensions at a city committee meeting last week because of the slow process of repairing their homes from the 2011 flood.

At Monday’s meeting, Bob Lower spoke of the volunteer efforts being revived this summer to help people who are still struggling with repairs. Lower, who is coordinating those efforts, had been on the board of Hope Village and was involved in other recovery efforts.

In addition to offering construction aid, he said, volunteers will assist anyone needing help in preparing documents required by the city to receive extensions for their housing units.

Council member Dave Lehner said 30 to 32 temporary housing units still exist on private lots, although he expected only half that number to apply for extensions. Some people have finished and moved into their houses but have yet to move their units. Under the plan approved by the council, they would have until June 17 before the city would take action against them to have the units removed.

Property owners would receive a notice that they are in violation of city zoning ordinance and would have five days to remove the units. A violation that continues after the five days becomes a class B misdemeanor, subject to up to $1,500 fine and 30 days in jail for each day that the violation continues. The city would hire a contractor to remove and impound units and assess the cost to the property.

Lehner said neighbors of the units are anxious to see them gone. The city may do inspections of those who request extensions to ensure that they are making progress on their houses and following their submitted plans, he said. The plans must include a projected timeline for finishing the work.

The council also voted to accept the bid of D.L. Barkie for $130,220 to complete nuisance abatement on a number of properties identified by the city as needing immediate attention.

The city previously had appropriated about $73,000 in sales tax dollars to nuisance abatement. Council member Bob Miller sought to move an additional $100,000 in Community Development Block Grant-Disaster Recovery dollars to the abatements, calling the existing money “woefully inadequate.”

The CDBG money had been allocated to a study on replacement of the Ann Street Bridge. However, the city determined that a study completed in 2003 on the bridge rules out the need for another study.

Shifting CDBG money requires a formal change in the Action Plan and must follow the guidelines and be approved by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development. The council voted to direct staff to investigate whether it may be possible to amend the Action Plan to direct money to nuisance abatement.

Former city attorney Colleen Auer asked what had become of notices that she had prepared while in office to serve on property owners requiring them to abate nuisances within five days.

Kelly Hendershot, acting city attorney at the meeting, replied that the noticing process failed to include certain information required by city ordinance, such as legal descriptions of properties and proof that papers were served. The city had to redo the notices and is in the process of sending them out again by in-person service, certified letter or legal publication.

Auer questioned why the city has not yet abated the properties. Hendershot said some property owners did so after getting the original notice. The city plans to abate the other properties now that it has a contractor with Monday’s bid approval.

Auer challenged Mayor Curt Zimbelman’s insistence that the city is working diligently on the problem, suggesting there’s difference between working diligently and actual action. She asked when there might be actual action.

“It’s going to get done,” Zimbelman replied. “It started wrong. We had to start over again. We are going to get it right.”

Auer then pressed the council as to whether they had declared nuisance abatement to be an emergency at a May meeting. Zimbelman responded that the problem is being taken care of, but it will take time.

“My point is,” Auer said, “I understand these properties have been in the same condition for three years since the flood occurred. It wasn’t until May 15 that you declared it an emergency situation, and even today here we are at June 2 there has been absolutely no enforcement activity by the city.”

Auer also voiced concern about lack of information being provided to the public at the meetings to give them an opportunity to follow the agenda items or speak on matters. Auer said she had wanted to speak on a MAGIC Fund grant proposal for Kalix, which had been approved earlier in the meeting.

The council approved a $126,000 grant and a $126,000 forgivable loan to enable Kalix to acquire replacement equipment.

In other action, the council:

approved a definition of community facility that would require a nonprofit organization to partner with a governmental body to qualify for sales tax funding assistance through the Community Facilities Fund.

directed the police department to cease enforcement of night-time street parking restrictions downtown due to the lack of parking created by construction projects.

voted 6-7 after a lengthy period of discussion and input to reject a zoning request from Imperial Homes for Elizabeth Meadows, a rural residential development that was to be located north of Minot in the city’s two-mile jurisdiction. The project included commercial development along U.S. Highway 83.

The site is next to Sunset Memorial Gardens. Cemetery manager Jeff Schmidt spoke against having the development next door, and a couple of other area residents raised access concerns. The planning commission had unanimously recommended denial. Staff had recommended denial because the property is not included in the city comprehensive plan and because the city could grow out to the development and be unable to move past it.