Local officials meet with zoning and planning reps

Unincorporated Fallon with no zoning and existing sewer in place, concern some

 By Kay Braddock

A nearly two-hour meeting with a Montana Department of Commerce administrator, several community planning consultants from throughout the state and eight local officials zeroed in on one issue – preparing for the possibility of growth in Prairie County.
In light of the Bakken oil boom’s affects on neighboring communities, town and county officials have been attempting to address issues that may be coming this way. One demonstrative step the Town of Terry took in recent months was to form a Growth Planning Board and Zoning Commission.
“If growth was to occur in your community, the decisions you make now, early on, are very important decisions,” said Brent Moore of CTA Architects during the Jan. 25 meeting held in Glendive.
Moore, who has been working closely with officials in Ray, N.D. in their attempts to handle a growth spurt of 400 people 2 years ago to 800 people now, with some estimates projecting an ultimate escalation of 2,000, said it’s important for community leaders to identify challenges and opportunities that can result from an increase in population.
“Just be very thoughtful about what you do at the beginning because there are ripple effects of all your decisions,” Moore cautioned. “Those ripple effects travel throughout the region.”
He noted the two things developers ask before building address water and sewer issues.
Mayor Ron Kiosse noted the town’s sewer capacity is nearing its limit.
“We can hook up 200 more residences,” Kiosse said.
A town water system was a concern Town of Terry Attorney Becky Convery brought up early on in the meeting.
“Sooner or later the town’s going to have to face the water issue,” Convery said. 
When asked whether the town was planning to establish a public water supply Convery responded, “I don’t think the town can afford it, but I think that the concern has been that at some point the state is going to impose it. I think that’s what I’ve heard from Art (Tyler) is his anticipation that sooner or later the town’s going to have to face the water issue, but I don’t know if there is any truth to that or not. That’s why I’m just raising the issue.”
State water engineer Kate Miller said it’s unlikely the Department of Environmental Quality will address the issue.
“DEQ lacks the authority to force the institution of a public water supply,” Miller said, noting regulations could be imposed on any existing public wells or systems providing water to multiple users.
Eastern Plains EDC Executive Director Jason Rittal, who helped organize the meeting, identified two specific needs the town could use help with as growth issues are addressed – technical assistance with establishing a town growth policy and a review of zoning regulations drafted by the Zoning Commission.
The state plans to post document templates online that communities can use for growth and zoning policies, said Dept. of Commerce Community Development Division Administrator Kelly Casillas. 
“(There’s) no cash, just manpower in terms of doing the documents,” Casillas said referring to the help the department can provide.
As far as financial funds to hire a community planner, Casillas pointed to grants available to towns like Terry, in particular ones given out by the Montana Coal Board. 
Rittal was the first to bring up one issue that appeared to be on the minds of several local officials attending the meeting.
“My biggest concern, quite frankly, in the county is Fallon, which is an unincorporated town with no protection, with a sewer,” Rittal said.
Prairie County Commission Chairman Todd Devlin agreed that the possibility of growth in Fallon and subsequent impacts have been brought up at recent commissioner meetings.
“We have to address those issues,” Devlin said. “I hate zoning. But we’re going to have to address these issues.” 
Later on in the discussion Devlin added, “We’ve got to find out what they want. Because we want to do what Fallon wants.”
When asked what prompted town officials to begin addressing growth issues, several factors were listed. Chief among the list was a concern regarding the development of shabbily-built temporary housing. Other concerns included the town’s inability to enforce an animal ordinance recently passed by the town council without zoning in place and the possibility of the development of multiple cabins using only one sewer hook-up. Without zoning in place, the town couldn’t prevent this from happening. 
Larry Keltner, who was recently appointed to the Growth Planning Board as one of the county’s representatives and now serves as the board’s chairman, said he hears varying viewpoints on the town’s need to address the issue.
“I don’t see the rushing horde yet,” Keltner recalled hearing from some folks about Terry’s growth concern.
Later in the discussion Keltner explained what the board is currently undertaking.
“Right now our planning board is working on some homework to come up with what we do want and what we don’t want,” Keltner said, listing business possibilities like strip clubs, gravel pits and machine works. “Or do we want none of that, to have everybody leave Terry alone and simply turn the lights out and hope everybody sneaks by us.”

Published Feb. 1, 2012

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