Zoning meeting included heated exchanges

By Kay Johnson

  Thursday evening’s Zoning Commission meeting drew several heated exchanges between commissioners and audience members, before concluding on a more amiable note.

Terry resident Bob van der Valk voiced his concerns regarding the zoning draft’s proposal addressing hobby farms within Terry’s town limits. van der Valk questioned the “4H project for animals” portion of the draft, which would require the removal or elimination of small farm animals, like rabbits and chickens, by August of each year.
“Kill your animals at the end of August? That’s what you came up with?” van der Valk asked the board.
“Well, that’s 4H,” replied commissioner Elden Netzer.
“You want to tell my grandkids to go kill their bunnies and chickens at the end of August?” van der Valk asked.
“Well, that’s 4H,” Netzer replied.
van der Valk was subsequently arrested and charged with disorderly conduct. The  charging documents state he was asked to quiet down two times, before Undersheriff Greg Huber arrested van der Valk outside the Town Hall building. Some attending the meeting were unaware of van der Valk’s arrest. 
Audience member Sherry Strasheim questioned the need for zoning in Terry, specifically the concern that zoning is needed to keep unwanted businesses from moving into the residential district of town.
“I don’t think a business person is going to put a business in a residential area where there is no traffic,” Strasheim said. “People in a business want to be where the traffic is, where the people are, not in a residential area.”
Town council person Rolane Christofferson questioned whether strip clubs could move in to Terry without zoning in place. She pointed to strip clubs developing in communities near the Bakken Oil area. Netzer brought up concerns of prostitution rings developing.
“Granted it’s far fetched, but we have no idea,” Netzer said. “We have no idea when it’s going to come.”
Concerns about the possibility of a rabbit farm moving into town were brought up as well. 
“You have an ordinance for that,” Strasheim said.
Christofferson explained that the town is not sure whether their current ordinance prohibiting more than 20 rabbits within one location inside the town limits is enforceable.
“We don’t know if they (the current ordinances) can work, because we’re not zoned,” Christofferson said. “That’s a land use issue.”
Land use ordinances aren’t any good without zoning, Christofferson went on to explain, noting while Prairie County Attorney Garry Bunke has counseled the town that the current ordinances are enforceable, Town Attorney Becky Convery has counseled the town that they aren’t enforceable.
“We have to find out the official,” Christofferson said. “What the state says.”
Audience member Marshal Pirtz questioned the board on what considerations were used to draft the current zoning map. He expressed interest in developing a business on his grandfather’s property someday and questioned why his grandfather’s property was being zoned within the residential district when it has been used as commercial property.
“And you know Joe Johnson had been paying commercial taxes on that property for that long and you still thought it was appropriate to put it in residential?” Pirtz asked. “I just want to know where your moral conscience is on doing something like that.”
Zoning commissioner Ruth Lekse asked whether some of the property owned by Johnson had been sold in recent years for residential purposes.
“It kind of set a precedent,” Netzer added.
Pirtz disagreed with that conclusion pointing to private property rights and questioned whether Terry had lost it’s common community feeling.
Netzer described 28 years of verbal abuse he has taken from Pirtz’s grandfather, including him “sexually insulting” his employees and his wife.
“He’s called me names. He’s called me everything,” Netzer said. “ ... I’m getting to the point where he’s going to end up in the pen,” Netzer said.
Pirtz then questioned whether actions being taken by the board were in retaliation.
“So this is a grudge?” Pirtz questioned. “Is this a grudge match?”
“No, it isn’t,” Netzer replied.
“Stick it to ol’ man Joe Johnson,” Pirtz said. “Lets stick it to Joe. What does this have to do with property or land?”
Calling for calmer discourse, zoning commissioner Heather Carter proposed zoning the property Pirtz was referring to as light commercial as a possibility. If the business Pirtz was interested in developing wasn’t listed under that category, Carter explained Pirtz would still have to go before a variance board for approval.
Pirtz questioned the fairness of actions by any board, questioning if favoritism would become a part of future zoning decisions made.
Zoning is intended to help offer some control to the community and provide building guidelines, Netzer explained.
“The main idea of zoning is we want people to build on their property. Because we’ve got houses in the street. We’ve got people building in the alleys.”
Zoning will require surveying of lots, building setbacks and ensure room for fire and emergency vehicles when needed, Netzer said.
“We’re not trying to shut down building anything or anything like that,” Netzer said. “We’re just trying to get a little reason.”
Larry Bond spoke up in favor of zoning, pointing to concerns he has of businesses moving into the residential zone.
“I don’t want a gas station next to my house,” Bond said.
The remainder of the zoning commission meeting addressed mapping and other issues. The next zoning meeting will be held June 6 at 7 p.m.

Published May 29, 2013

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