Tuesday, August 05, 2008
by Jacqueline Dotzenrod
BISMARCK - The lines were drawn before the meeting ever began.
The Burleigh County Commission's public hearing on its comprehensive plan drew quite a crowd Monday night. Dozens of people were in attendance to give and listen to the testimony spoken before the commission.
On one side of the room sat public employees and representatives of business in support of the plan, who stand to potentially gain from land acquisition opportunities and more tax revenue. On the other sat landowners with concerns of their rights being infringed upon by the plan.
After opening comments from the chairman of the planning commission Chuck Peterson and city and county planner Carl Hokenstad about the history and structure of the plan, the debate began.
In Peterson's opening remarks, he emphasized that private property rights are not infringed on in this plan.
"But the right to sell your property to someone, is that considered property rights," commissioner Doug Shoenert asked. "If we restrict it (what can be done with the land) heavily and they (property owners) are not able to sell it, isn't that taking something?"
"Well, for everything you get, you sometimes have to give something, commissioner," Peterson responded. "Those restrictions are there for the public good."
"And should the public good override private individual's rights?" Schoenert continued.
The commissioner's question hung over the room as the debate continued for three hours. Citizens from both sides of the room came to the podium to speak their piece.
Some of the people speaking in support of the plan include Hokenstad and Peterson as well as Bismarck-Mandan Development Association President Russell Staiger, President of the Bismarck-Mandan Chamber of Commerce Kelvin Hullit, Montana-Dakota Utilities community development coordinator Mike Fladeland and superintendent of the Bismarck School District Paul Johnson.
"Certainly we all have to give up something in support of the society in which we live," Russ Staigert said.
Neither Peterson, nor Steigert defined "public good" or who should define it.
From the other corner came a dozen landowners to battle the notion their rights must be put to the chopping block.
"This is a talk about a constitutional right that is being ripped from the hands of the people who happen to own private property," North Dakota Landowner's Association President, and President of the North Dakota Policy Council Curly Haugland said. "Our state constitution is very clear about the right to possess property. The dictionary definition of the term means "controlling use" of the property. The whole plan is about someone else controlling the use of private property."
State representative Dwight Wrangham also stepped up on the soapbox to share some of his perspective.
"I served in the North Dakota Legislature and we got lobbied a lot by special interest groups and I know you do too," he said. "When I get lobbied heavily by a special interest group and those citizens come forward or I choose the special interest groups over the citizens, I end up being sorry I supported that legislation."
"I would encourage you (commissioners) to lend those citizens a special ear because they took time out of their day. They're not paid to develop the plan. They're not paid to implement the plan. They're just citizens out there looking to protect their rights."
The commission decided to table the issue until its Sept. 3 meeting, at which time the members will discuss amongst themselves. No public testimony will be taken at that time.
If you would like to review the Burleigh County Comprehensive Plan, log onto www.burleighcountycompplan.com. Monday night's meeting will be aired on the Bismarck Community Access Channel on Saturday, Aug. 9 at 7 p.m.