Beth Hurt of South Heart wrote this letter to the editor of the Dickinson Press recently to point out the inconsistency of recent Stark County (ND) Commission decisions on rezoning for expansion of Solar Bee, which manufactures “award-winning and patented solar-powered long-distance circulation technology” for the purpose of “solving the world’s water quality problems, naturally,” and rezoning for the proposed South Heart lignite mine and coal processing facilities. It seems that the Commission is tough on spot zoning for renewable energy manufacturers, who create value-added products and grow North Dakota’s high tech economy, but rolls out the red carpet for a good old-fashioned strip mine. Sounds like a winner of an economic development strategy.
In the Sunday Press article “SolarBee, Inc. looks to expand,” the Stark County Commission was said to be “tough on spot zoning.”
I disagree — at least when it comes to the proposed South Heart coal project, which lies miles away from any other industrial zoning.
Spot zoning means changing land use to accommodate a single user, instead of zoning for the overall needs of the community.
The Stark County commissioners did exactly that for Great Northern Power Development in 2009, ignoring the county’s comprehensive plan, and zoning a number of farmers right out of business.
The commissioners also turned a deaf ear to overwhelming opposition to the project from people living in the area. In fact, a court overturned the decision because the commissioners had offered no written rationale for it.
Then, the commissioners returned and did the same spot zoning last year, giving the company the right not just to mine, but also to build a chemical fertilizer plant, a coal gasification plant, an electric power generating plant and a solid waste landfill.
Oh, and they can also manufacture and store hazardous products. The commissioners also spot zoned 40 acres of agricultural land into industrial land to benefit the Australian company GTL in October 2009.
The message is clear: If you are an existing area business that wants to expand, you’ll be subject to scrutiny. If you are an out-of-state company that bought up millions of dollars of coal rights on speculation and has no known market for its product, the commission will push anyone and everyone out of your way.
If that is being “tough” on spot zoning, what would it mean to be lenient?
Beth Hurt, South Heart