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By Kevin Bonham, Published February 24 2009

N.D. Township Officers Association talks zoning

LARIMORE, N.D. — Zoning disputes between cities and townships or counties ultimately should be decided by an administrative law judge, not an elected local board.

That’s the essence of the argument township officials are making in regard to proposed state legislation governing extraterritorial zoning jurisdiction of cities into rural areas, Larry Syverson, Mayville, told a gathering of more than 100 people gathered Monday for the annual meeting of the Grand Forks County Township Officers Association.

Syverson, District 3 director of the North Dakota Township Officers Association, was responding to proposed state legislation.

Reduced jurisdiction

In cities of 25,000 or more, both HB1554 and SB2027 would reduce the city’s zoning jurisdiction over territory from four miles to two miles outside the city limit.

HB1554 provides for a committee of city and county or township officers to settle disputes. If that committee cannot settle the issue, it would be referred to an administrative law judge.

SB2027 was amended last week before passing the Senate to give county or township governments the authority to decide zoning issues in the two- to four-mile zone.

The amendment was pushed by the North Dakota Association of Counties.

“That needs to be changed back,” Syverson said. “It turns the bill from a legal issue to a political issue.”

Two-mile rollback

Brenna Township Supervisor Beau Batemen said the debate involves two issues — distance and dispute resolution. He supports the proposed two-mile rollback.

“It would take the city of Grand Forks 350 years to expand throughout the four-mile zone,” he said, providing the city’s growth rate remains constant.

He also opposes the amended Senate’s amended version of the bill, saying it ultimately shifts the authority from the rule of law to an elected body.

“I feel it’s better that an administrative law judge settling disputes,” he said. “County commissioners are subject to the whims of the electorate.”

The city of Grand Forks extended its extraterritorial zoning jurisdiction about two years ago when it was searching for a location to build a new landfill. Since then, the city has settled on a location in Rye Township, near the present landfill. That plan is awaiting North Dakota Health Department approval before construction can begin.

A local taxpayer organization also has filed suit against the city over the landfill location.

‘Workable’ plan

Last month, Grand Forks city and county officials proposed an extraterritorial zoning compromise that would reduce the city’s jurisdiction to two miles, except along a radius of 400 feet of main corridors — paved roads — between the two- and four-mile zones.

“In Grand Forks County, I think that’s workable,” Bateman said.

Under that plan, if townships adopt their own zoning ordinances, the city would have to negotiate separate agreements with the townships. All five townships bordering the city — Allendale, Brenna, Falconer, Rye and Walle — are in the process of forming their own zoning boards or proposing their own zoning ordinances.

Tom Moe, Mayville, N.D., who serves as the township association legal counsel, said townships need to follow pending state legislation closely.

“What I’m afraid of is we’re going to get some pretty good legislation concerning zoning and townships, and we’re not going to be ready to deal with it,” he said.

Township supervisors also heard reports about:

- Tile drainage, the practice of draining subsurface water from agricultural lands. Rich Axvig, chairman of the Grand Forks County Water Resource District, said townships throughout the Red River Valley are working to adopt similar guidelines.

State law says any drainage, whether surface or subsurface, of 80 acres or more, requires a permit before a drainage project can begin.

- Correctional center. Grand Forks County Correctional Center Administrator Bret Burkholder reported that the county will launch an automated victim notification program next month. Under the plan, anybody who registers automatically will be notified when an inmate is going to be released from custody.

The county also will start 24/7 sobriety program in March. Under the program, courts order two daily sobriety tests for people who are convicted two or more DUIs. The program has been under a trial program in other parts of the state.

- Road maintenance. Hegton Township officers protested a 25 percent increase in the county’s annual fee to maintain county roads, which was imposed this year. They said such an increase should have been discussed with township residents before being enacted by the County Commission.

The Grand Forks Herald and The Forum are both owned by Forum Communications Co.