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Heidi Shaffer, Published November 02 2010

Fargo approves group home zoning change

Group homes designed for sex offenders and other felons will require public notification and city approval before locating in Fargo.

The City Commission unanimously approved Monday a new zoning category that requires a group living facility housing four or more felons who are on parole or probation to obtain a conditional use permit from the city.

The process would require both notification to neighboring property owners and approval by the planning commission.

Commissioner Dave Piepkorn spearheaded the initiative in response to a proposal earlier this year by Fargo attorney Craig Richie to open a sex offender group home in north Fargo.

Richie’s plan was shot down by both the planning and city commission but brought to light the need to have such facilities subject to public review, Piepkorn has said.

The change Monday also requires a facility to implement a behavioral program to prevent repeat offenses.

But the amendment leaves out a large component of the original proposal brought forth in September by Piepkorn that would have limited offender group homes from 1,250 feet of schools, parks and other sensitive areas.

Police Chief Keith Ternes was against setting spatial restrictions on where sex offenders can live because it often gives residents a false sense of security.

But Ternes said he’s happy with the zoning change, largely because it does a good job of focusing on all felons, not just sex offenders.

Piepkorn said though the proposal was very different from what he originally envisioned, he is happy with what was approved.

In other business:

The commission made the first amendment to the city’s draft sign code, which was passed during the Oct. 18 meeting.

The sign code draft previously restricted large-sized, 672-square-foot billboards from everywhere in the city except in industrial areas and along the interstates.

The change Monday will cap the number of large-sized billboards along principle arterials such as Main Avenue, 45th Street and University Drive.

The amendment means existing billboards will remain in place but could also be relocated or replaced along the same arterial if needed by a sign company.

Russ Newman of Newman Signs requested the amendment.

Commissioners Brad Wimmer and Mike Williams voted against the change. Wimmer said he felt appropriate compromises had previously been reached in the drafting of the code.

The amendment will be included in the sign code ordinance, which will go before the commission in the next month or two for final approval.

The commission also voted 3-2 to approve vacating, or giving up the city’s right-of-way, on a section of sidewalk adjacent to the Radisson on Second Avenue North and Fifth Street in downtown Fargo.

The Radisson has plans to extend its lobby to accommodate a first-floor bar, the hotel’s co-owner John Adams said Sept. 7 during the planning commission hearing on the measure.

Commissioners Piep­korn and Williams voted against it.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Heidi Shaffer at (701) 241-5511