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Clay County Hutterite colony seeks rule change to address its housing needs

Interstate Engineering of Horace, North Dakota, is helping the colony in its efforts to change rules regulating development in the county.

clay county courthouse
Clay County Courthouse.
Forum file photo

MOORHEAD — The Clay County Planning Commission will hold a hearing on Tuesday, March 15, to consider a request from the Spring Prairie Hutterite Colony to make "intentional" communities a permitted use in agricultural general zoning districts.

According to a report prepared for the planning commission by Matt Jacobson, Clay County's planning director:

The Spring Prairie Colony, known officially as the Spring Prairie Hutterian Brethren, is an "intentional community" that has existed in Clay County since the 1970s and over that time has grown to an estimated 260 members.

Because the colony has living arrangements characteristic of a communal system, the county's development rules as they stand today do not accommodate the colony's needs, particularly when it comes to housing.

Consequently, housing has become an issue due to overcrowding, the report said.

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Interstate Engineering of Horace, North Dakota, is assisting the colony in its efforts to change rules regulating development in the county.

According to Jacobson, the colony is essentially looking for the ability to develop housing that fits their culture and their lifestyle.

"This is really the only way they can go forward," Jacobson said, adding the change would let the colony construct more dwellings on a single parcel.

The county's current rules have a residential density standard of two homes per 40-acre tract, or up to 16 lots per subdivision.

Under the proposed change, the minimum lot size for an intentional community would be set at 40 acres, with no more than seven dwelling units per acre.

Also under the proposed change, residential structures could not include more than 40 dwelling units per structure.

Jacobson said that because of the colony's communal way of living , members don't have a desire to have individual lots where there is one residence per lot.

Instead, they have many families living communally together, said Jacobson, who likened the colony's housing style to apartment living.

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Jacobson's report to the planning commission states that if an intentional community use is allowed in the county's development rules, it will be important to watch for any efforts to set up something like a work camp, as the current request being made by the colony doesn't envision things like work or labor camps.

"Care must be taken to ensure that intentional communities are not misappropriated or misused as labor camps," the report said.

The report also said that in granting any zoning amendment, the planning commission must consider a number of things, including the effect the proposal will have on the health, safety and general welfare of the surrounding lands, including agricultural land.

Tuesday's planning commission meeting starts at 7 p.m. in the third-floor board room of the Clay County Courthouse.

Efforts to reach the Spring Prairie Hutterian Brethren and Interstate Engineering to comment for this article were not successful.

I'm a reporter and a photographer and sometimes I create videos to go with my stories.

I graduated from Minnesota State University Moorhead and in my time with The Forum I have covered a number of beats, from cops and courts to business and education.

I've also written about UFOs, ghosts, dinosaur bones and the planet Pluto.

You may reach me by phone at 701-241-5555, or by email at dolson@forumcomm.com
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