Ward County planning commission to revisit right-of-way issue

Ward County’s policy for road right-of-way dedication will get another look by its planning commission.

The Ward County Planning Commission voted Thursday to direct staff to develop a proposed ordinance change addressing requirements for right-of-way dedication along township and section line roads.

The county’s existing, controversial right-of-way ordinance was discussed two years ago, and the planning commission had recommended eliminating it. The ordinance requires applicants seeking plats of up to 40 acres donate road right of way. They must dedicate and donate 75 feet of right of way for county roads and 40 feet for township roads. By law, a statutory easement of 33 feet exists from the center of township and county roads, but easements differ from dedications in that the landowner retains ownership.

The county commission’s 2-3 vote to reject the planning commission’s recommendation in June 2017 came with a decision to pursue a rewrite of the county comprehensive plan, which would include another look at the right-of-way ordinance.

The Ward County Farm Bureau and Farmers Union then sued over an alleged “illegal taking” in the existing ordinance. The case is continuing in federal court. In the meantime, the planning commission sees a number of proposed plats with variance requests on the right-of-way requirement.

County engineer Dana Larsen told the planning commission Thursday that it might be possible to put a compromise in place while the county continues to draft its new comprehensive plan. He suggested common ground might be reached regarding section line roads and township roads, leaving in place existing rules for roads inside subdivisions and other more controversial areas.

“That would probably take care of almost 90 percent of your variance requests,” he said. He said a compromise could be a stopgap to address the bulk of concerns until a comprehensive plan is finalized.

The planning commission has held two meetings to review a first draft of the comprehensive plan and is expected to receive a revised, second draft in early June for further review. The public also will have opportunity to provide input into the planning process in June.

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