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Associated Press, Published May 15 2013

Harmon Lake homeowners north of Mandan win zoning battle

MANDAN, N.D. — People who have built homes around a new manmade lake in western North Dakota have narrowly won a battle against industrial development.

The Morton County Commission on Tuesday night voted 3-2 to reject the rezoning of a 102-acre area near Harmon Lake from agricultural use to light industrial use. That will bar development of the area by XL Homes, a company that throughout the process did not reveal its specific plans for the area.

That added to fears among homeowners that their properties or the lake itself might suffer environmental damage. About 50 of them signed a petition asking the County Commission to reject the recommendation of the county's Planning and Zoning Commission to approve the development.

"Nobody knew what was going on," resident Pam Beckler told commissioners Tuesday night. "A strong majority were totally against this. I totally agree the county needs light industrial, but you guys have to have the right spot for this stuff."

The three commissioners who voted against rezoning the area agreed, saying a light industrial park was not a good fit for the area. Commissioner Ron Leingang said he had doubts that a berm design for the northeastern part of the property would hold water runoff during big rain storms.

Officials with XL Homes did not say what their development plans were, though spokesman Dan Masseth said the light industrial code bans refineries, slaughterhouses, oil field crew camps and chemical storage facilities.

"We're not putting the development in to contaminate," he said. "We're trying to use every possible means to create something good here. Everything that the county has asked for we have permitted."

Commissioner Andy Zachmeier voted in favor of XL Homes' request, saying he felt it met all county codes, water plans and state requirements. He also said the county should be prepared to defend its decision to reject the request in court.

The $7 million Harmon Lake project was completed about 5 ½ years ago, mostly with federal money. The lake finished filling naturally about four years ago. Its main purpose is flood control but the lake also serves as a scenic recreation area.

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.