The Ward County Commission approved a zone change Tuesday for property owned by the Dakota Boys and Girls Ranch that will allow it to build a mixture of housing units for employees.
The property is located to the north of the ranch and will be changing zones from agricultural to residential, specifically R3. A mixture of single-family homes, twin homes, 4-plexes and 12-plexes is planned for the property.
Gene Kaseman, president of the ranch, said the unprecedented need for the adolescent treatment and education center's services caused by the Souris River flood last year and the ongoing oil boom in northwest North Dakota has given them an increasing need for affordable employee housing.
"In order to maintain a level of staffing and a level of service that we offer the community we have to be able to recruit and retain staff," Kaseman said. "We cannot do this unless there is affordable housing."
Kaseman said the subdivision will provide affordable and high-quality housing with paved roads, street lights, walking trails, a pond, trees and additional treatments to the buildings to make them aesthetically pleasing. He said this development will be a model of mixed housing in the Minot area.
"Is this low-income housing? No, this is not low-income housing. What we are simply doing is charging a reasonable rent that is equivalent to the salary. And that rent is usually around 30 percent of the annual salary per year, or maybe 25 percent," Kaseman said. "It's what the rents in Minot used to be five years ago. It's what the rents are in Fargo or Minneapolis once you get out of the energy boom and the (areas with) houses lost to the flood."
The ranch will own all the housing in addition to the property, and Kaseman said they have no intentions to sell any of it to a developer in the future. He noted the ranch has a large amount of goodwill with the communities in the area and he doesn't want to lose any of it just to make a quick buck.
The commissioners had a few concerns about the development, which had already received a positive recommendation by the Ward County Planning Commission. Commissioner Bruce Christianson asked what would be done with empty units that had no ranch employees to occupy them. Kaseman responded that they planned with work with other nonprofit organizations that needed employee housing.
Commissioner Jerome Gruenberg was most vocal in his opposition to the project as presented. He said the total of 49 housing units seemed excessive. The 49 units are comprised of two 12-plexes, three 4-plexes, four twin homes and five single homes.
His biggest problem with the plan, however, was the planned 12-plexes, which would be two stories tall.
"To me that doesn't fit here. I've gotten a lot of letters, a lot of emails from people in the area, and they're objecting to this development," Gruenberg said of the 12-plexes. "They're not objecting to the single-family residences."
Kaseman responded that not all employees could afford to rent a home, which makes the 4-plexes and 12-plexes necessary.
Gruenberg said he also believes West River Water & Sewer, which would be providing those services to the subdivision, has a limit on the number of hookups it has left to give out, and he doesn't believe there will be enough for all 49 units. Brock Storrusten of Moore Engineering said they are also working with North Prairie Rural Water to solve that particular situation.
A large crowd of people living the area attended the meeting in opposition to the development. There were so many that the proceedings were moved from Commissioners Chambers to the larger Ex-Servicemen's Room.
Kevin White spoke on behalf of approximately 130 local residents who signed a petition opposing the plan. White said one of the biggest concerns the current residents have is bringing a large influx of people into an area that only has one exit. He said the average number of people per housing unit in Harrison Township is three people, which means anywhere from approximately 120 to 150 people could move into the development.
"That's an extreme impact on our small community that we have right there," White said.
He also said residences typically have one vehicle per person, with many residences having more vehicles than people, which would put further strain on the roads. This would be particularly worrying to residents during the winter, when one stuck vehicle can block all access into and out of the area, as happened once this past year during a very mild winter.
Drainage, especially during the spring, was also a concern. White noted the ranch's entrance was partially washed out two years ago, and he said this situation would only be exacerbated with the planned housing development.
White said they're not against additional housing in the area, but it should be similar to the current homes, which sit on larger, 1/2 acre lots to preserve the rural setting. They believe the 12-plexes would ruin the country atmosphere they currently enjoy.
"I just don't see that development making our community better as to why we built and why we bought our houses," White said.
After more discussion, a motion to allow the zone change to R3 and let the project proceed was made, but Gruenberg made a substitute motion to change the zoning from A1 to R1, which would not allow the 12-plexes to be built there. After a second and more discussion, a vote was held, with commissioners Gruenberg and Carroll Erickson voting "yes" for the substitute motion and commissioners Christianson, Jack Nybakken and John Fjeldahl voting "no," killing the motion 3-2. When the vote to approve the zone change to R3 came up, the commissioners' votes were flipped, with Gruenberg and Erickson voting "no" and Christianson, Nybakken and Fjeldahl voting "yes," passing the motion 3-2.
In other business:
- A proposal from SRT in the amount of $1,519.95 for a network run for wireless connectivity in the Ward County Courthouse was accepted.
- The commission decided to proceed with plans to install a catalytic converter on the courthouse generator, which will cost $32,000 and incur a $7,000 maintenance fee every three years but ultimately save the county money in reduced energy bills.