The Ward County Planning Commission granted a variance from the building moratorium at its regularly scheduled meeting Thursday night, paving the way for a resident of Country Club Acres to build a new home on lot just outside the footprint of the proposed levee.
Jerry Taft's home in Country Club Acres was flooded by the Souris River last year, and he owns an adjacent lot he is proposing to place a modular home on. Taft said the lot is ready for construction and he is running out of options for a place to live.
"I've been retired now for 12 years and with the price of land around Minot here it's pretty doggone tough to buy a new piece of land to start over," Taft said.
Taft had previously looked at land in Trestle Valley but said with prices upwards of $100,000 per acre it was financially impossible.
Although the lot his flooded home occupies is in the buyout area, the adjacent lot he owns and would like to put the modular home on is not, according to Amanda Schooling, Ward County emergency management director.
Commissioner John Fjeldahl was concerned about how this variance would affect the building moratorium Ward County currently has in place for flood-impacted areas.
Dana Larsen, Ward County engineer, said there are two big concerns they need to look at. The first is whether or not the lot is in the footprint of the proposed new levee. Because it was not that was one hurdle cleared in Larsen's mind. The second concern is that any new development be protected in the future.
"Everyone's tired of filling sandbags and putting up temporary levees," Larsen said. "I know I'm tired of it."
Larsen said the lot is behind the current levee system and would be protected to 7,000 cfs easily, and the new levee would offer even more protection.
Fjeldahl's concern was that no one had any idea when the new levee would be built, and he wondered if there was a certain elevation new homes should be required to be built at. It was a question Larsen said he couldn't answer because there were still so many unknowns.
In Fjeldahl's estimation, granting this variance without knowing a specific elevation to build at would be opening up a can of worms, especially if they opened it up to allowing the sale of property to homeowners looking for someplace to live.
A neighbor of Taft's told the planning commission several people have already rebuilt their homes all around Taft, and they didn't have to meet any elevation requirements. He felt it was unfair to force Taft to a different standard than everyone around him.
Commissioner Teal Myre said those rebuilt homes were existing structures, while Taft was proposing to build a completely new home. She did sympathize with Taft, however, and said she didn't agree with requiring him to build to a higher elevation than his neighbors.
Fjeldahl said he wasn't trying to pick on Taft specifically, but noted levee projects are a huge cost to taxpayers, and not everyone is protected by them.
"I understand why you feel you're being picked on, but if we do this, the people that are in unprotected areas are really going to feel like they're picked on. Because we don't intend to build any levees for them," Fjeldahl said. "But if you build there, you're going to expect, I would assume, those dikes be maintained properly at the elevation we believe them to be. That's become a huge cost to taxpayers, not only locally but nationally.
"When we start going down this road, here, there are some people who are not going to be protected. That's just the way it is. And there is no guarantee when this protection is going to be approved."
After some more discussion, the public hearing was closed and a motion to grant the variance to Taft was made and seconded. It passed, with only Fjeldahl voting against it.