Council agrees to rework ordinance prohibiting multi-unit housing after large numbers speak out

Art Wolff was one of about 20 Terry residents who spoke during Thursday's meeting addressing the proposed ordinance that would have prohibitied any construction of multi-unit housing within a one-mile radius of Terry for the next six months.


New draft expected in weeks; same public viewing and hearing required

By Kay Braddock

  It’s all about protecting the integrity of the community. 

That was the explanation presented by Town of Terry officials to a packed Town Hall gathering during Thursday evening’s public hearing on an emergency ordinance that would have prohibited the construction of any multi-unit housing within a one-mile radius of Terry’s town limits for the next six months. 
“We are for growth,” Terry Mayor Ron Kiosse told the 70-plus residents in attendance. “We just want the building done to code.”
In a standing-room-only setting, town officials began the 3-hour meeting by explaining the council’s intentions behind the proposed six-month moratorium on construction of multi-unit housing. Kiosse provided a handout listing excerpts from recent news reports coming out of western North Dakota, describing the strain the oil- industry’s boom is having on housing and area infrastructures like sewer and water.
“This emergency ordinance is to give the council a little extra time to get our zoning in place,” Kiosse said, noting a 3-member zoning committee, recently appointed by the council, has already met three times. 
Terry Town Attorney Rebecca Convery reiterated the point that the town council is for growth, but hopes to manage any large influx of people moving in to Terry in a responsible and controlled manner. Convery, who began her duties as the town attorney in August, said it was made clear to her from the onset that the biggest concern town officials had were the negative impacts growth would have on the town due to the town’s lack of zoning.
“What Terry is doing is commendable, because they’re trying to protect what they already have,” Convery said of the town’s ongoing zoning project. “Actually, Terry should have done this 30 years ago, like the rest of the state of Montana.”
The emergency ordinance was proposed as a way to keep run-down temporary buildings from being crammed into small lots in Terry, officials explained. 
“What the town didn’t want to have happen is have people drag in any old trailer, any old RV, any old storage container and buy lots in town, for example, and put a storage container there and a 1960 trailer and have five guys living out of it,” Convery said.
The emergency ordinance was intended to keep people from outside the community from moving in and doing whatever it is they wanted to do, Convery said. “All (the council) wants to do is to ensure they get zoning regulations in place.”
But after listening to the passionate reactions of nearly 20 town residents, the majority of whom rejected the emergency ordinance for varying reasons, town officials agreed to hold off on voting on the measure.
Due to the sharp criticisms received regarding the wording used within the emergency ordinance, Convery agreed amendments could be made.
“This language is not set in stone,” Convery said early on, noting a new ordinance can be drafted within the next several weeks, addressing similar concerns. Once it is completed another public hearing will follow.
Criticisms to the ordinance included the use of the word ‘transient’ in describing oil-industry workers, the one-mile reach the ordinance would have beyond the town’s boundaries and the council’s ability to extend the ordinance banning construction of multi-unit housing from 6 months to 2.5 years, through the use of two 1-year extensions allowed by state law.
Business owners questioned the council’s need to address the matter at all.
“Why are you even doing this when you have state codes?” Kempton Hotel owner Russell Schwartz asked. Pointing to the International Building Code that is already upheld by the Montana State Legislature, Schwartz disputed the idea that anyone could come in and place too many trailers on a small portion of land.
“There’s codes that prevent it,” Schwartz said. “Don’t adopt (the emergency ordinance). Let the state do it, because it’s already there.”
Downtown business owner Glenda Ueland agreed.
“You’ve got the sanitarian. You’ve got the state of Montana. Couldn’t they just pack the ball?” Ueland asked. “There are other hurdles to jump over, before it gets to the Town of Terry.”
Drawing the only applause of the evening were comments made by Terry resident and oilfield worker Steve Phipps.
“I happen to be a transient worker,” Phipps said, receiving a rousing round of applause. He questioned the perception that man-camps or the workers that dwell in them are dirty, saying the notion is “pure and simple crap.” 
“We need to stand up as a community and welcome this,” Phipps said, pointing to the extra revenue an influx of workers could bring to Terry. 
Passing an ordinance like this could send the wrong message to those working in the oil field industry, Phipps said. “They will drive 80 miles out of their way to avoid this town.”
Addressing fears as to the cost and strain a man-camp could have on the town’s resources, Phipps believes companies like Halliburton would have no problem paying for expenditures related to sewer or water needs.  
Currently Terry’s 15-year-old sewer system can maintain 1,200 people, Kiosse confirmed at the meeting. Terry’s current population is right at 600. Council persons expressed concern as to the expense the town would incur through the need to install more sewer lines, but residents pointed to the installation fee already in place.
“Do zoning,” Phipps said. “Don’t put a 6-month ban, moratorium on building in this town. All you’re doing is telling people, ‘We don’t want you here.’”
Business owner Tim Rittal said he wants growth for Terry, but would like  some regulations in place to maintain it.
“I just don’t want a situation where they come in and put up tents in my neighbor’s back yard,” Rittal said. “I’m just saying, we just want a little bit of control.”

Published Nov. 2, 2011

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