Posted 12/29/15 (Tue)
By Cecile Krimm
A new zoning ordinance in Divide County seeks to address a number of issues that surfaced as the Bakken oil boom exploded a few years ago.
Previously, “Things got patched in as problems arose, whether it was strippers, man camps or hog barns,” said Land Use Administrator Jody Gunlock.
When he came on the job during the height of the boom in July 2012, Gunlock said applying policies written in the 1990s, was a little like “changing the tire on the school bus while it's driving down the road.”
Two things -- the slowing of growth over the past year and the arrival of a new state’s attorney -- gave Gunlock and the commission the time and expertise to devote to a complete “overhaul” of the ordinance. Following a public hearing process, it was adopted last May.
Now, “we're finally catching up on some holes -- some gaps we had around the county,” he said.
Hearings held Dec. 18 to restore the agricultural zoning of parcels that previously had been changed to industrial zoning is just one example of cleaning up issues that might have been handled differently, had the commission had time to update the zoning rules prior to the boom.
Another important change to the ordinance is the handling of subdivisions and the creation of rural residence districts.
“We added an entire chapter on subdivisions,” said Gunlock, a necessity that “had never been an issue before.”
Because the pace of oil activity and growth could resume with a change in oil price, “We wanted to be sure we had a process in place,” he said.
The need for rules to govern where groups of people cluster in a rural area became evident early in the boom.
“When people are building trailer camps and stuff like that, way down on (ND) 42, that's very difficult,” said Gunlock, due to the distance of emergency responders such as law enforcement, fire and ambulance personnel.
While farms have always been located in the rural areas, the risk of emergencies involving greater numbers of people just ratchets up the difficulty of adequate response.
“When you start building a concentration of people out there, now you're overloading that network and making it much more difficult for first responders,” he said.
Thus a new type of district -- a Rural Residential Zoning District -- was added.
Gunlock said Prairie Greens, the home development adjoining the Crosby Country Club, is an example of the type of development that would today be classified in this fashion -- though Prairie Greens is grandfathered under the old ordinance.
Under the new rules, such developments must go through a subdivision process to create the Rural Residential Zone, but the nice thing about it, Gunlock said, is that once the developer has done that, individuals buying in or building within the district don't have to go through such a lengthy process.
If an application for a residential zoning district is desired, it is presented to the zoning commission, giving the county the ability to agree or disagree with the location of a housing concentration in a particular area.
In general, said Gunlock, such developments are more likely to be accepted on the fringes of existing towns and infrastructure.
The basic purpose of any zoning ordinance, Gunlock said, is to look out for the rights and welfare of all landowners in the county.
“It's your land, but if you try to come up with a use that negatively impacts your neighbor, the county may say, ‘No, that's not acceptable.’”
In general, said Gunlock, the new ordinance follows closely laws already laid out in the Century Code.