The February meeting of the Ward County Planning and Zoning Commission was, as always, filled with in-depth conversation on a variety of zoning issues. Most notable among the topics was a first discussion on the new gravel pit ordinance, which was initially brought up at Tuesday's Ward County Commissioner's meeting but was sent to Planning and Zoning for review.
The ordinance, titled "Ward County Ordinance 2013-1: Excavation and mining of sand, gravel, rock, stone, scoria, and clay" maintains that no permit is required for Class A, or agricultural, uses, although the Ward County Weed Control Officer must be informed if topsoil, defined as about two feet into the ground by the officer at the meeting, is moved off the property of the owner. That condition is placed so that seeds and roots in the soil won't be blown or left elsewhere to sprout noxious weeds.
"If you're selling it, it's commercial," said Ward County engineer Dana Larsen, when asked by commission chairperson Kevin Connole on determining what is agricultural and what is commercial. "The state is quite clear on what's commercial."
For Class B, or state and county, uses a permit will be required except for materials located with the right of way of a project. The Weed Control Officer shall also be informed of movement operations and the county planning and zoning administrator shall be provided with a site plan of the operation, a copy of the permit or source certificate from the North Dakota Department of Transportation, as well as evidence of a written agreement that the operations will "not take place within three hundred feet of an adjacent property line or within five hundred feet of an existing residence," according to the text of the ordinance.
Finally, for Class C, or commercial, uses the operation must be approved by the county commissioners, a reclamation staging plan and map identifying haul roads must be provided to the zoning administrator, and the application information must be updated yearly.
The penalties for going against the ordinance may be changed and there was a bit of a fun debate over the use of civil penalties over criminal ones.
"So you don't want to send someone to prison for a zoning violation?" Connole asked Roza Larson, the State's Attorney for Ward County, which got some laughter.
"Not at the current time, no," Larson said, although she did leave the option for criminal penalties open for those who wholly disregard the rules willfully.
Laughter is common at the Planning and Zoning Commission monthly meetings, but there is something much more to the proceedings. It may be because the meetings take place at night after the day is largely done, but, without fail, a topic will come up that will encompass so many hypotheticals with deep discussion that the meeting nears a philosophical debate or an ethics seminar.
Tonight's centerpiece debate took place mainly between commissioner John Fjeldahl and county engineer Dana Larsen over the issue of the county right of way for road uses and how it may interfere with the rights of property owners.
Fjeldahl had been called by a property owner who had purchased a property and had been surprised to learn that the right of way allowed for 75 feet from the center-line of the roadway for future development rather than the 33 feet the property owner had thought.
Fjeldahl believes this is an undue requirement for the landowners who would have to forfeit land to the county without due compensation. To make his point, he brought up the development of roadways along 55th Street where the county purchased the agricultural land from property owners for their purposes, but that residences don't get that compensation and that the land would just be handed over.
"It would be like the state saying 'If you don't license you're vehicle, we're going to take your motor.' That authority is being pushed on people," he said. "They can't develop the property unless they give it up."
"If you didn't dedicate right of way as part of the spot developments, the spot uploadings that's been happening here and there, there will be problems in the future that are not going to be able to be solved," countered Larson. "You're going to have an issue where you're not going to get a road put in to serve the public ... and that's what this is trying to avoid, basically, by locking down certain areas."
Another topic of discussion was new "verbage" for defining zoning near the Minot jurisdiction, but the vast majority of discussion centered around the differences between R-1, or rural single-family dwellings, and R-2, or more urbanized single-family dwellings. Some commissioners felt that the differences were negligible.
"We're not improving it any," said commissioner Norman Livingston, saying that certain new definitions only make the process more confusing. Another point, brought up by Connole, was whether or not the zoning will become to detailed, leading to possibly appeasing people who complain about aesthetic features of homes.
"We don't want to be the shingles or siding police," Larsen said, raising his right hand and smiling. "We have enough things going on as it is."
"I'm not interested at all in being a slave to the developers," said commissioner Teal Myre, making sure that the issue will be given adequate space for community members to become involved in the definitions of zoning and that it won't take place in a behind-the-scenes process.
A representative for both the Home Builders and Realtors task forces also said that he wants to make sure the process gets adequate input and that his groups want to be at the talks.
"The one I like is the one that works," he said about zoning codes.
Several routine plat requests were approved, but Fjeldahl took this opportunity to bring up that some names were not included on the requests and asked whether this is normal. Larsen said that it is if the property owners were not the ones that submitted the information, but that names could be made a mandatory requirement in the future.
A land surveyor who came to Minot from Indiana wants to make sure that there could be some text requiring basic preservation for lot monumentation because the destruction of plot monuments was a growing problem in his home state that lead to survey workers having to work ten times harder, unpaid, while surveying land for something that could easily be solved with a few lengths of tape.