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ETZ explained: City administrator clarifies zoning, planning misconceptions

Before the Oct. 6 special meeting on the ETZ expansion, The Press spoke with City Administrator Brian Winningham on the details of a proposed zoning jurisdiction expansion and what it will mean for the residents of Dickinson and Stark County.

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Dickinson City Hall, pictured above, will be the location for the upcoming Oct. 6, 2021, special meeting on the ETZ — or extra-territorial jurisdiction — expansion concerning a 2-mile radius outside of city limits and into Stark County. (Jackie Jahfetson / The Dickinson Press)

The subject of the city's plans to move forward with an extra-territorial zone (ETZ) expansion of 2 miles, stretching its zoning control to 4 miles beyond the city limits, has generated some confusion on what exactly an ETZ is. Online, residents have taken to social media in protest of the plan, and civil discourse has all too often fallen to ad-hominem attacks and widespread misinterpretation.

In an attempt to clarify some common misunderstandings about extra-territorial zones prior to the meeting on Oct. 6, The Press reached out to City Administrator Brian Winningham who detailed the process.

Winningham noted that ETZ zones are, by definition, “unincorporated areas outside of the city.”

“Our city adopted our Comprehensive Plan in 2013 in order to serve as a guide to manage and govern our growth,” Winningham said. “The primary reason to manage growth is for the public good, by providing and planning for city services.”

The North Dakota Century Code outlines how statewide cities can plan for growth through the use of expanded zoning territorial control.

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In section 40-47-01 of the Century Code, which covers extraterritorial zoning, it states that “a city may, by ordinance, extend the application of a city's zoning regulations to any quarter quarter section of unincorporated territory if a majority of the quarter quarter section is located within the following distance of the corporate limits of the city":

  • 1 mile if the city has a population of fewer than 5,000. A city that has exercised its authority under this subdivision has joint zoning and subdivision regulation jurisdiction from one-half mile to 1 mile with the other political subdivision.

  • 2 miles if the city has a population of 5,000 or more, but fewer than 25,000. A city that has exercised its authority under this subdivision has joint zoning and subdivision regulation jurisdiction from 1 mile to 2 miles with the other political subdivision.

  • 4 miles if the city has a population of 25,000 or more. A city that has exercised its authority under this subdivision has joint zoning and subdivision regulation jurisdiction from 2 miles to 4 miles with the other political subdivision.

With regard to what plans the city has for the prospective addition of zoning control, Winningham said the city will use its city code to provide good governance in matters related to zoning — including the new area.

Winningham encouraged citizens of Stark County and Dickinson to review section 39.01.003 of Dickinson’s City Code. This section outlines how the city plans to stay, “on track to provide good governance in zoning,” he said. According to Dickinson's code, the purpose of the Zoning Ordinance is to serve the public health, safety and general welfare of the city and its jurisdiction; classify property in a manner that reflects its suitability for specific uses; provide for sound, attractive development within the city and its jurisdiction; encourage compatibility of adjacent land uses; protect environmentally sensitive areas; and further the objectives of the Comprehensive Plan of the City of Dickinson.

"The city government intends to develop (a) future growth plan consistent with our Comprehensive Master Plan and that will benefit the majority of our residence and surrounding area. That is our mission, to make this the first choice for families and the best choice for opportunity," he remarked.

When asked if the city had heard from any citizens residing within the prospective ETZ zone, Winningham said they had received minimal input.

“I received one comment from an individual that (stated), ‘People in the county do not want to be told what to do.’ I don’t think he spoke for all people in the county, however I understand people could be concerned,” he said, explaining, “We are a free society here in Dickinson and freedom brings great responsibility to allow equal rights for all, not just the powerful, but for all. One way we keep all equal is to keep our work for the public, in the public eye.”

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A potential mutually amicable solution to address concerns held by the county through North Dakota Century Code in Chapters 40-47, which permits the city and Stark County to enter into a joint-powers agreement for all matters related zoning decision within the prospective ETZ zone. Under this agreement, a joint-commission consisting of members representing the interests of the the city and the county could jointly weigh decisions as it relates to the proposed ETZ zone — with the city and county each retaining its own commissions for matters related to non-ETZ areas.

According to Stark County officials, this solution would present the county and city with opportunities to continue to serve its respective constituencies in preserving best practices for the areas affected by the ETZ expansion.

For Winningham, this is an option that remains on the table as the forthcoming special meeting between both entities attempts to facilitate a smooth transition.

“This is (the) purpose of the joint transitional meeting that is being held on Oct. 6, 2021. As the city attorney mentioned at the last City Planning and Zoning meeting, there have been no formal decisions made on this subject,” Winningham noted. “The joint transitional meeting is the opportunity for the county and city to discuss what the transition will look like.”

The City of Dickinson will conduct its special commission meeting, or a joint zoning transitional meeting, beginning at 7:10 a.m. Wednesday, Oct. 6, at City Hall, where a quorum of the Dickinson City Commission could be in attendance to discuss the 2-mile City of Dickinson ETZ Expansion. As stated on the city's website, "it is not expected that any City of Dickinson business will be discussed collectively by the Board of City Commissioners."

Jackie Jahfetson is a former reporter for The Dickinson Press.
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