Belfield considering multiple zoning ordinance changes
During its monthly meeting, the Belfield City Council considered several proposed changes to its zoning laws — including a special downtown commercial district, sidewalk requirements, vehicle storage and building code.
At the recommendation of zoning board member Kevin Hushka, the city council unanimously approved James Rixen as a new member of the zoning board during its monthly meeting Tuesday Dec. 14. The council discussed several other zoning issues as well.
New downtown district
City of Belfield Building Inspector Mel Zent said the board added a downtown commercial district. Under current zoning, most property owners must follow setback requirements, rules dictating that they leave a certain amount of space between any structures and the property line. In the downtown commercial district, they will be allowed to build right up to the property line, and will not be subject to the same landscaping provisions as other districts.
According to a zoning commission document provided by the City of Belfield containing the tentative changes, “Mixed uses are encouraged within the DC (Downtown Commercial District). The grouping of uses is designed to strengthen the town center’s role as a center for trade, service and civic life.”
Belfield is unique and should prepare for future development, Zent said.
“South Heart doesn’t even have a downtown district, but they don’t have a downtown like Belfield does. And I think you guys want to preserve that… have those people create a downtown district where they can build to property lines,” Zent said.
Sidewalks and vehicles
Another big proposal proposed at the meeting was for the city to no longer require sidewalks in front of homes in residential subdivisions that do not have curbs and gutter accesses on the street.
“Until that curb and gutter goes in there, the sidewalk is not required,” Hushka said. “If you want to put one in on your own, you can.”
If a curb and gutter are installed after the sidewalk, its proximity to the sidewalk will likely be off code. In this situation the sidewalk would have to be ripped out and rebuilt anyway, Zent said.
The proposed document also loosens restrictions on vehicle storage. Currently, code allows for the storage of two unlicensed and unregistered in a fully enclosed garage. The change would allow up to two such vehicles to be stored anywhere on a residential lot, and will not restrict what can be stored inside a garage. More than two would require approval of the council.
The document also proposes the addition of a building relocation permit process. Obtaining the permit would entail notification of all property owners within 200 feet of where the building is to be moved, and 51% of their approval. All affected utilities must also be notified and verify they’ve consulted with the building’s mover.
Councilmember Pamela Gross said she would like to see changes that encourage new home construction.
“In the last 10 years, we haven’t had one new house that isn’t a manufacturer built in Belfield, yet we have all these empty lots,” Gross said. “That is something I would like to consider before approving this.”
The council also discussed the possibility of allowing the construction of garages and storage buildings on empty lots, as all residential garages currently in city limits must be married to a lot with a house.
Mayor Marriann Mross said she understands both sides of the argument. On one hand, these building owners would pay property taxes and maintain their lots, and she would rather see things stored in garages than yards. But she also does not want Belfield to be a storage town, she said.
Gross floated the idea of only allowing Belfield to build garages on empty lots. Zent cautioned against that, warning that he saw this loophole abused during his 30 years of working for the City of Dickinson.
“For a long time, they did do a permitted garage on an accessory lot that was married to it, but it was never recorded at the courthouse. Then they sold the house but kept the garage, that loophole has been changed. That’s why I say if you don’t have a padlock on the gate, it’ll be used,” Zent said. “Garages are not small anymore. We’re not talking 24-by-24 garages. We’re talking 30-by-40 foot garages with 14-foot sidewalls. Why? Because they want to put their camper or boat and everything else in there."