Leith moves to put moratorium on new dwellings
LEITH -- Mayor Ryan Schock owns more lots here than white supremacist Craig Cobb, and he said Tuesday he may sell the property or give it away to ensure Cobb doesn't succeed in his plan to bring enough like-minded people to town to take control of the city government.
"We can play his game," Schock said.
Meanwhile, a law firm hired by the City Council is drafting a moratorium that will keep new dwellings from being built and mobile homes or campers from being moved into town until the council can approve a more restrictive zoning ordinance, Schock said.
The firm of Kelsch, Kelsch, Ruff & Kranda of Mandan began working on the moratorium on Monday, and Schock said he hopes to have it completed by week's end.
"We're going to just freeze all building permits so nothing can be done in the city ... until we have everything figured out here," he said.
Since purchasing a dozen properties in Leith, Cobb has transferred ownership of four lots. Three went to well-known white supremacists, including National Socialist Movement leader Jeff Schoep, whose visit to the city last month sparked a protest by about 300 people.
The seriousness of Cobb's intentions became more evident last week when an Oregon couple and their five children moved into his home, which has no running water or sewer.
Schock said he was contacted Monday by a member of the anti-hate group UnityND, which organized last month's protest, about whether Leith had lots available for sale. Currently there are none on the market, Schock said.
However, in addition to his own residence, Schock owns 14 lots in Leith, all of them vacant except for one with a house that could be made livable, he said.
Schock said that while his plans aren't certain, he's strongly considering donating or selling his lots to UnityND and/or its members.
"Whatever we need to do to fight this, we're going to do it," he said of Cobb's plan. "If he builds one house, we'll build two. If he builds two, we'll build four."
UnityND co-founder Jeremy Kelly of Bismarck said he's willing to build a home in Leith. He said he likes the area and that the overall goal is to stop Cobb and other white supremacists from gaining a voting majority in the Grant County town of about 20 people 70 miles southwest of Bismarck.
Kelly said he wants to "just fill the town up with good, conscientious North Dakotans who don't want a bunch of radical hate groups moving in, and we'd have the upper hand on that."
Kelly said he plans to travel to Leith on Saturday and meet with Schock to work out the details.
Cobb could not be reached for comment. He didn't answer multiple phone calls Tuesday afternoon, and his voice mail box was full.
In September, Custer Health Environmental Services issued three public nuisance complaints to Cobb, and he failed to meet the deadline for filing a plan to bring the property up to state standards. As of last week, Custer Health was still seeking legal counsel on how to proceed, including whether to seek a court injunction to declare the property unfit for habitation, and no eviction notice had been issued, said Aaron Johnson, an environmental health practitioner with the agency. Johnson said Tuesday he had no new information.
Cobb told the Bismarck Tribune last week that a supporter recently donated a 33-foot mobile home he plans to put on his property, and that many other people have expressed interest in his Leith project.
Schock said the updated zoning ordinance will likely include restrictions on mobile homes.
"Campers for sure are not going to be allowed," Schock said. "Mobile homes, possibly in the residential area, but I'm not sure yet."
Schock said he hopes to have the zoning ordinances updated within the next 10 days. The moratorium, once it's approved, will be in place until then, he said.
"We're acting as fast as we can here," he said. "If it takes us six months, we're going to leave it in place for six months."
The law firm is being paid from the city's legal defense fund, which had grown to about $3,000 as of last Friday, Schock said. Kelly said UnityND is planning a fundraiser in the near future to benefit the legal defense fund.
Schock said city officials haven't further discussed their last resort -- to dissolve the city if it looks like Cobb and his supporters might gain control of the council.
"I think we've got a lot of other options that'll work other than having to do that," he said.