Planning commission correct to review right-of-way ordinance

The Ward County Planning Commission made a good decision last week when members voted to direct staff to develop a proposed ordinance change addressing requirements for right-of-way dedication along township and section line roads.

The issue had risen to public attention two years ago and remains on today. The Ward County Farm Bureau and Farmers Union sued over an alleged “illegal taking” in the existing ordinance. The case is continuing in federal court.

The current 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.

Both sides of the debate have valid cases, but both the practice and principle ran afoul of affected residents.

The planning commission recommended eliminating the practice, but the Ward County Commission rejected the planning commission’s recommendation in June 2017. However the rejection of the recommendation came with a decision to pursue a rewrite of the county comprehensive plan, which would include another look at the right-of-way ordinance.

A rewrite of the county comprehensive plan is a good idea and is in the works now. The planning commission is expected to receive a revised, second draft in early June for further review. A compromise while the comprehensive plan is in development might be an option.

The public will also have the opportunity to give its input in June. Particularly those affected by the right-of-way policy or who might become affected by it should certainly participate. However, given the overall impact of a revised comprehensive plan, members of the general public should also take this opportunity to educate themselves and speak up.

In the meantime, the Ward County Planning Commission is on the right track.