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City considers requests to establish man camps

The need to house oilfield workers has come to Kenmare, and the Planning and Zoning Commission took up the topic Monday night in what appears to be the first of several public hearings to come.

1/05/11 (Wed)


Skid shacks . . . The temporary housing sites, commonly called man camps,
generally consist of a grouping of bunk house mobile homes without wheels,
called skid shacks. Pictured above are three of the eight bunk houses
currently located at Kenmare's Pioneer Trailer Park.

 

They want to be here “yesterday”

 

The need to house oilfield workers has come to Kenmare, and the Planning and Zoning Commission took up the topic Monday night in what appears to be the first of several public hearings to come.

 

“All of a sudden, we have oil activity here,” said Mayor Roger Ness as the Commission convened. “We’ve had several companies in town looking for housing or office space, and we want to make sure we have these ordinances in place. Other towns haven’t and that’s led to some problems. These people want to be here yesterday!”

 

The Commission considered two requests for Special Use Permits to allow temporary housing in a commercial zone. The requests were made by James Wink for Outlots 2 and 3, located at the intersection of U.S. Highway 52 and Division Street, and by Shane Harris for Lot A of Outlot 19, located along U.S. Highway 52 near the Modern Woodworks business.

 

City engineer Ryan Ackerman defined the role of a Special Use Permit in these cases. “Action on these particular applications does not impact future actions,” he said, adding that any requests for more temporary housing would be handled on a case-by-case basis. He also recommended the city assess an annual fee to the property owners per unit of temporary housing included in the request.

 

Ness explained the current ordinance prohibits residential use on the ground floor of buildings within the commercial zones. He also cited examples of residential properties around the downtown square, where the first floor provided retail or office space.

 

He directed the Commission to hear the requests and make recommendations for action to the City Council. “I think it’s best to go with a conditional use permit,” he suggested, adding that the period of time covered by such a permit could be established at 6 months or a year or any amount of time the Commission deemed best before the permit would need to be reviewed and reconsidered.

 

Commission members and visitors in the audience asked questions and voiced concerns during the meeting about several topics, including property tax responsibility, use of the city’s sewer and water system, need for electricity at the sites, garbage services, the number of and appearance of structures that would be moved in, spacing and arrangement of those structures, the number of people who would be housed, transportation and parking for those workers, notification to adjacent property owners and residents, and other potential impacts to the city. Problems seen in Tioga and Stanley were also referenced.

 

Shane Harris was present for the session and explained that two structures would be located on his property for office space. “They will be nicely done,” he said. “These will be temporary structures, and they have no speculation for how long they will be here.”

 

He noted the two units were self-contained for sewer and water purposes, with water lines under consideration by the company when weather permits in the spring. The units would need to be connected to electricity, which would be serviced by MDU because of the location.

 

“They want to be presentable,” he said. “They want to skirt them and they’re talking about building a deck on one. I wouldn’t want something [that looks poorly made] to be sitting next to my building.”

 

He didn’t believe garbage, sewer and water fees would be an issue for the company involved, and said that a representative of the company would be happy to answer further questions at a future Commission meeting.

 

Wink was unable to attend the meeting, but Ness spoke on his behalf, with at least four skid shacks to be placed on the site for the purpose of housing oilfield workers. “My understanding is these are self-contained except for power,” said Ness. “They have asked for four units and this would house 40 people. There’s a lot of economic development that comes with this. You have 40 people here, eating and buying gas. They’re also looking at the city, and they want to come to town and be neighbors.”

 

Commission members asked fire department secretary-treasurer Chuck Leet, present in the audience as a city council member, if the Kenmare Fire Department had concerns about the proposed temporary housing.

 

“We don’t know much about it yet, but so far, we don’t have a problem with man camp skids,” Leet said. “We’re set up to respond to a call if necessary. Out there, we would depend on the tanker for a water supply, but we don’t hear much of anything about fires in these units. They’re not set up as fire traps.”

 

Leet noted the fire department’s next meeting agenda already included responses to fire calls in man camps. “This will be discussed,” he said. He also mentioned that alcohol was prohibited in the man camps.

 

Complaint heard

The only specific complaint about the requests came from Eddie Pullen, who noted he lives across the street from Wink’s property. “That’s where they want to put 40 people,” he said. “I don’t want that.”

 

City Attorney Marvin Madsen advised that in the absence of any written applications or other materials, the Commission members would need more information before making a recommendation. The Commission agreed, and city auditor Ralph Hoversten and director of public works Mike Thompson said they would provide those materials later this week for the members’ review before the next meeting on the requests, scheduled for January 10th.

 

During the meeting, Ness said the city council was working on a more permanent solution to the community’s need for housing and office space.

 

“We’re going to run into this for years to come,” said Leet. “We don’t want to turn away things that help Kenmare, but it has to be done right. If they’re going to come in and do business and make their millions here, they better be paying their fair share.”

 

Hoversten predicted the procedures established by the Commission and the city in these first requests would be important in the future. “What we’re doing today is the path for what we’ll be doing six months or five years from now,” he said.

 

Second hearing

The Kenmare Planning and Zoning Commission will hold a second public hearing on the two Special Use Permit requests on Monday, January 10th, beginning at 6:30 pm in the City Council chambers. Written comments about the requests are due by 4 pm that day in the city auditor’s office and should refer to the legal description of the property involved. Oral comments will be taken during the public hearing.

 

The regular January meeting of the Kenmare City Council will also be held January 10th, beginning at 8 pm.