Dennis Haughian holds up several flyers he has mailed out to Terry residents in recent weeks to promote his anti-zoning message. The Terry Town Council recently formed a Town Planning Board and Zoning Commission to enact zoning regulations in response to impacts being felt by area communities by the oil boom occurring along the eastern Montana and western North Dakota border.
By Kay Johnson
When 69-year-old Terry resident Dennis Haughian began two weeks ago mailing out his 8 and-a-half-by-11 inch protest flyers criticizing the zoning process the town of Terry is currently undertaking, he expected more negative reaction.
“So far I haven’t gotten one egg on my car or my house,” Haughian said half-jokingly. “I’ve been expecting it everyday.”
He mailed his first flyer to all 457 Terry post office box holders on April 2. The next two flyers followed weekly. His self-funded flyer campaign will conclude with a fourth handout, expected to reach postal customers by the end of the month.
The subject of enacting zoning regulations to the town of Terry is a passionate one for Haughian. But he says it isn’t about him as much as it is about what’s best for the tiny town of 600 people.
“I’m 69, so it’s not really an impact to me,” Haughian said. “I just don’t like our freedoms being limited when it doesn’t seem like the majority of people are in favor of it.”
Haughian, who attended elementary and high school in Terry, returned to his hometown about 5 years ago, after retiring as a loan officer with the USDA. As a homeowner and small business proprietor of storage rental units located in the former AIM Insurance building on Logan Ave., Haughian said he isn’t trying to organize a movement. He said his anti-zoning message is an attempt to make others aware of the negative affects regulations can have to an already diminishing community.
Some criticisms listed in his flyers point to extreme zoning regulations like limiting the number of pets at each residence, use of camper trailers, numbers and types of flowers planted and meetings held at homes.
He points to comments of support he’s received from both those inside and outside the community.
“I have not gotten one negative feedback,” Haughian said, noting some have offered to offset flyer-expenses, something he has steadfastly refused.
He also acknowledged that he hasn’t heard from any of the board members he has criticized in the flyers.
Oil boom concerns give rise to zoning considerations
Reacting to the recent oil boom stresses encroaching towns along the eastern Montana and western North Dakota border, Terry town officials attempted to enact an interim ordinance late last year that would have prevented the construction of any new multi-unit housing occurring within a one-mile radius of Terry. Harsh criticisms from local business owners and residents to the proposed ordinance deterred the Terry Town Council from voting on the measure. Instead the town council formed a three-member Zoning Commission and now eight-member Town Planning Board, which originally had seven members.
Planning chairman shares perspective
According to Town Planning Board Chairman Larry Keltner, the goal of both boards is to preserve Terry’s current quality of life, while planning for the future.
“We’re trying to have respect for what our community is today,” Keltner said. “We don’t want to lose anything we have.” He noted members on both boards want to see Terry gain through growth of business and population.
Keltner came on board shortly after the first of the year as a county representative, filling the seat of a former member who resigned. He along with Dianne Ehman were called upon by the Prairie County Board of Commission to serve. Three of the eight Town Planning Board members also make up the town’s three-member Zoning Commission. They are: Charles Deisher, Heather Carter and Eldon Netzer. The remaining Town Planning Board members are Keith Olson, Elizabeth Smith and town council person Kathy Hickman.
Board meetings, once held monthly, are now scheduled every few weeks, Keltner said, in an attempt to gain measurable progress. But even at that rate, enacting a Town Planning Policy, which must first be in place before zoning regulations can be enacted, will be a slow and arduous one.
“I would be very surprised if it happens before the end of the year,” Keltner said.
Pointing to the negative reaction the earlier proposed interim ordinance received late last year, Keltner said it’s important to remember that decisions being made by boards like his have impacts outside of Terry.
“The word moratorium at least in some peoples’ minds is embedded,” Keltner said of the previous proposed ordinance. He recalled a recent conversation he had with a Glendive man who was under the impression that Terry’s building moratorium was not only approved but still in place.
In regard’s to criticisms listed in Haughian’s flyers that point to zoning rules regulating Christmas decorations used and tree varieties planted, Keltner welcomes the feedback.
“I have board members that are extremely offended by the mailings and have taken it personal, which I find odd,” Keltner said. “(The flyers are) a perfect tool … to understand what some of the concerns and fears that others in the community might have.”
Although Keltner describes debate among board members as robust and useful, input from community members has been uncannily hushed.
“The amount of public debate at the meetings is disappointingly limited,” Keltner said.
Published April 18, 2012