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Mike Nowatzki, Published September 11 2007

Williams says group backs vote

Fargo city commissioners on Monday delayed adopting a smoking ban in bars because a citizens group plans to collect signatures to get the same ordinance on the June ballot, Commissioner Mike Williams said.

Williams declined to identify the group members until today, but said he’s offering his assistance to them.

Commissioners were scheduled to adopt a smoking ban ordinance that would remove the existing exemptions for bars, designated areas of trucks stops and places rented for private functions.

But they voted 3-1 to table the ban, with Mayor Dennis Walaker casting the lone dissenting vote and Commissioner Brad Wimmer absent.

“The reason I voted no is that I feel that we should pass the ordinance and let (opponents) refer it if they want to,” Walaker said, adding, “I’m so tired of the smoking issue.”

If the citizens group collects the necessary 2,850 signatures, the ordinance could be one of two smoking bans on the June ballot.

Old Broadway co-owner Randy Thorson said 4,500 people have signed a petition to initiate an ordinance that would re-enact the existing ban. The only change is that it would clarify that the J.T. Cigarro cigar bar is exempt.

Thorson said he may wait to turn in the signatures until after the citizens group submits its signatures.

Thorson did submit 4,300 signatures Monday to initiate an ordinance that would amend Article 4, Section F of the city’s home rule charter to state that initiated or referred ordinances adopted by voters can’t be repealed or amended except by a vote of the people.

“It takes 20,000 people to vote to adopt that and only three people to change it, and that seems less restrictive” than state law, he said.

In other business, commissioners approved an agreement that changes the alignment of the proposed frontage road northeast of Interstate 29 and 52nd Avenue South.

In July, the commission approved an alignment that left landowners Fred and Earlyne Hector with a 35-acre parcel between the three roads.

Commissioners had already voted in June to restrict the future commercial zoning in that area to 20 to 25 acres.

But the Hectors rejected the 35-acre alignment during right-of-way negotiations with the North Dakota Department of Transportation, which plans to rebuild the interchange in 2008, NDDOT Metro Engineer Kevin Gorder said.

The Hectors and the state eventually reached a memorandum of agreement that will leave them with a 50.71-acre parcel. Special assessments on the Hector land will be deferred until 50 acres of the parcel is zoned as commercial and platted, or until Nov. 1, 2018, whichever comes first.

City Engineer Mark Bittner told commissioners they could accept the agreement or pursue the 35-acre alignment through eminent domain, which would delay the project until at least 2009 and possibly jeopardize federal funds.

“That seems to me like blackmail,” Commissioner Tim Mahoney said.

Walaker said the new alignment doesn’t change the zoning, and members are firm on limiting commercial use.

Under the approved motion by Mahoney, the state will ask the Hectors to strike the 50-acre provision from the agreement, but it won’t hold up the project if they refuse. The panel also reaffirmed its 25-acre zoning decision.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Mike Nowatzki at (701) 241-5528