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Dickinson City Commission to hear employee housing ordinance

The cost of living in Dickinson is high. Property management companies routinely advertise rents for two- and three-bedroom apartments and condos at $2,000 per month or more.

In an effort to find good employees, some businesses have created illegal apartments and living quarters within their working space, Community Development Director Ed Courton said. Courton's proposed ordinance to legalize and regulate that type of dwelling was unanimously approved by the Dickinson Planning and Zoning Commission at its most recent meeting. It now advances to the Dickinson City Commission.

"The ordinance I'm proposing is an accessory dwelling unit ordinance in commercial districts," Courton said. "It's specifically just for the commercial districts -- not for the industrial and it's not to be used in residential."

The issue was brought to the attention of the City Commission in April by Dickinson Fire Chief Bob Sivak and more recently by Dale Jacobsen of Jacobsen Music, who wished to create living quarters on his business property.

"I think those requirements that you're bringing up are adequate for what we're doing and I think they would work," Jacobsen said.

Each dwelling would have to be brought to the planning and zoning commission for approval. No more than two units would be allowed at any given business and all residents would need to be an employee or a relative of an employee, Courton said. The planning and zoning commission would review each residence yearly.

"This is for temporary housing to have for the next couple of years," Courton said. "From there, we can review it and see if it's necessary and remove that provision."

Allowing the residences means that the city can regulate them, and that the fire department will know where they are.

"The problem when you have those illegal accessory dwellings is that the plumbing, the wiring, all that is not to code and it becomes a real safety problem," Courton said. "And this could address that by requiring it to meet the code."

In the downtown area especially, the city is promoting mixed-use buildings -- retail on the ground with apartments up above. Commissioner Gene Jackson questioned the difference between employee housing and rental units above retail.

"This is temporary and the other one's permanent," Courton said. "The only way we allow that -- we do encourage it -- would be through our (planned unit development) ordinance and we require that to be a minimum of three acres."

The apartments could be no smaller than 300 square feet and no bigger than 700 square feet, Courton said.

"This is not for everybody," Courton said. "If they're not willing to meet these standards -- the idea behind this is temporary -- a year from now they may not need it. It's an investment issue on their behalf, but it's not a permanent one."

The next Dickinson City Commission meeting is 4:30 p.m. Tuesday.

Katherine Grandstrand
I graduated from Bemidji State University in 2007 with a bachelor's degree in mass communcations, from Columbia College Chicago in 2009 with a master's degree in journalism.  
(701) 456-1206