Cass County, North Dakota: Teaming with Townships

Republished courtesy the North Dakota Planning Association Newsletter

by Hali A Durand, Cass County, North Dakota

Map from the Cass County Comprehensive and Transportation Plan. The largest population center in North Dakota, Cass County is located along the eastern border of North Dakota in the Red River Valley. Cass County has seen 43.1 percent growth since 2000, to a 2015 population of 168,930. From 2015 through 2045, the population of Cass County is expected to grow more than 49 percent, to 251,940, most of this growth will be in Fargo-Moorhead urban area.

The local tiers of government in Cass County consist of the county, 27 incorporated cities, several additional unincorporated villages, 49 townships, and four water resource districts.

The county has a large role to play with townships and water resource districts, in the provision and maintenance of transportation and other county infrastructure.

Improved communication and dialogue between the county and townships has the potential to establish an atmosphere of proactive facility and infrastructure planning on the part of all parties in Cass County.

Significant emphasis on township collaboration is also present in the recent update to the Cass County Comprehensive and Transportation Plan. The new vision of the plan is to consciously focus on providing its services in ways that are responding to the changes confronting local governments and citizens alike. This article, more specifically, will explore the role of the Cass County Planning Office and how it teams with the townships.

The role of the planner

Cass County government focuses on creating connections between services, programs, and departments. A key role for the county is to support the growth of small towns and rural communities through leadership and guidance on issues of countywide impact. The basis of many county policies need to remain agriculturally focused, with an eye towards the primary sector economy and emerging technologies.

Policies, such as the newly updated Cass County Comprehensive and Transportation Plan, the Cass County Highway Access Plan, the Flood Damage Prevention Ordinance, the Cass County Subdivision Ordinance, and all Township Zoning Ordinances lay the guidelines for intergovernmental coordination and planning.

The Cass County Planning Office provides resources on such topics on the Planning Department webpage. Providing resources is a real benefit for townships and small cities to have technical assistance or training readily available to them. Township coordination and collaboration with the Planning Office on growth management and development are essential. Planning involvement happens when subdivisions are proposed in the areas under township zoning authority.

Each of the 49 townships in Cass County and many of the cities have established zoning authority. This figure from the Cass County Comprehensive and Transportation Plan illustrates which cities have established zoning authority and extraterritorial authority, as well as showing the type of zoning established by the townships. The townships with single districts are invariably focused on agricultural preservation, and have a township wide agricultural zoning district. The remaining townships have multiple zoning districts which infer greater potential for non-farm development.

The role of the township

While Cass County does not regulate land use through zoning, each of the 49 townships in Cass County and many of the cities have established zoning authority.

Generally, the townships have established a single district-zoning ordinance or multiple zoning district ordinances. The townships with single districts are invariably focused on agricultural preservation, and have a township-wide agricultural zoning district. The remaining townships have multiple zoning districts, which infer greater potential for non-farm development.

The Cass County Planning Office developed the most current model ordinance to regulate the use of land and structures built upon it. Counties, cities, and townships are also responsible for developing floodplain development ordinances that are in compliance with the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). Cass County Planning, together with cities and townships within the County that participate in the National Flood Insurance Program, are responsible for governing floodplain activities occurring within the county.

Emerging topics

One emerging issue for townships pertains to potential high-impact land uses that often involve state agency procedures and rules. These include animal feeding operations, solar farms, wind farms, marijuana manufacturing facilities, and solid waste facilities. They also tend to be controversial projects.

There are other potential land uses which have significant impacts and the potential for controversy. These include temporary housing (commonly called mancamps), adult entertainment, and bars that may spring up when there is a large influx of temporary workers as could possibly occur for construction of the FM Diversion project.

Another fundamental issue for townships and cities is growth management as it relates to extraterritorial (ET) zoning authority. The North Dakota Century Code establishes limits for the distance extraterritorial zoning can be expanded beyond municipal boundaries, based on the population of the city. For each of the three city sizes (Population of <5000, 5000-24,999, and >25,000), the first half of the distance belongs unilaterally to the city. However, the second half of the distance must be shared with any adjacent jurisdiction that has established zoning authority.

ET management practices can serve to improve land use and transportation decision making between urban or rural areas. However, if not implemented correctly, inefficiencies can develop. For example, townships are often left with responsibility for roads adjacent to urbanized areas (e.g. 19th Avenue North and 45th Street North).

Outcomes

Most townships and rural cities in Cass County do not have full-time staff to act as planners, zoning administrators, or building officials. In some cases, development activity happens too infrequently that local governments may not be cognizant of what their regulations or procedures require.

It is beneficial for local jurisdictions to have zoning and guidance in place to address their potential before faced with an actual application. The Planning Office provides research, resources, and technical assistance for such topics.

Emerging issues may also result in a township’s desire to transfer its power to enact zoning regulations to the county. Agreements, including cooperative or joint administration of any powers or functions, may be made by any political subdivision with any other political subdivision unless otherwise provided by law or home rule charter. A political subdivision may by mutual agreement transfer to the county in which it is located any of its powers or functions as provided by law or home rule charter, and may in like manner revoke the transfer. Townships and the county may enter into a joint powers agreement whereby the township gives its authority for zoning to the county.

These outcomes and others are reflected in the goals and strategies of the Cass County Comprehensive and Transportation Plan as well. Emphasis is placed on: providing zoning maps for townships; refining existing township zoning ordinances aimed at agricultural preservation; addressing potential complexities related to special land uses; hosting township land use management workshops on a regular basis; and compiling best practices materials and other educational materials on various land use and land management topics.

Summary

The current and future needs of the county rely on decisions of sound principles and fiscally efficient strategies. The Planning Office and overall goals of the Comprehensive Plan provide townships with guidance and assistance and focus on creating connections between services, programs, and the local tiers of government.


Reed Township

The following is a sidebar about the Reed Township included in the Cass County Comprehensive and Transportation Plan.

Map of Reed Township included in the Cass County Comprehensive and Transportation Plan.

Reed Township provides an interesting look at several opportunities for improving growth management between cites, townships, and the County. Currently Reed Township sees an overlap of no less than four ET boundaries: Fargo, West Fargo, Reile’s Acres and Harwood. Within Reed Township are several existing and future emerging Principal Arterial roadways which run along section lines. Many of these corridors are currently township roads, or county roads on the verge of urbanizing. Along many of those corridors, corridor management responsibilities are not well defined and have been addressed in a reactive approach. Floodplain management is another critical issue in Reed Township. The multitude of overlapping jurisdictions requires communication and a clear set of standards to ensure wise land use and infrastructure management in the area. In areas such as Reed Township, growth overlays may assist in providing clearer guidance among a host of affected jurisdictions on how to address common infrastructure and land use issues.



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Hali A Durand is currently the Cass County Planner, of Cass County, North Dakota. Previously, she was employed by the City of Fargo Planning Department, and in that role, worked with Community Development programs as well as land use planning. Hali earned a Bachelors Degree in Business Management from Kaplan University and a Masters Degree in Public Health and Human Services Administration from Minnesota State University Moorhead. Hali serves on the Bicycle and Pedestrian Commission, the Cass Clay Food Partners Steering Committee, the Orchard Glen Task Force, the Hazard Mitigation Plan, and NDPA.


Published in December 2018 - Republished courtesy the North Dakota Planning Association Newsletter