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Cass County, township clash over rural zoning set for trial

However, State's Attorney Birch Burdick hopes possible agreement could be reached on issue before the October trial

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This property is owned by KNB Properties along Cass County Highway 18 and near the Wild Rice River that they would like to develop into commercial lots. The subdivision issue is scheduled for a trial.
David Samson/The Forum
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FARGO — Cass County State's Attorney Birch Burdick said a trial has been set for October to possibly settle a clash over township zoning power and county subdivision authority.

However, he told county commissioners on Tuesday, Jan. 18, that he hopes some type of agreement involving the controversy could be reached before that point.

The lawsuit is being filed by KNB Properties, operated by Kevin Biffert, which hoped to offer a business park along Interstate 29 at the Cass County Highway 16 exit and near the Wild Rice River. Biffert, who is president of the commercial real estate holding company, is also a board supervisor for Stanley Township, which is directly south of Fargo.

His company hoped to divide land it purchased there into lots that it could sell.

That would be against county policy involving subdivision ordinances in place since 2007.

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The county requires at least 40 acres for any rural subdivision as a way to promote small, truly rural developments that will mesh with existing agricultural land and activities. It is the hope, though, that any larger urban style subdivisions would be constructed on urban fringes or other areas with supportive infrastructure.

The county ordinance states the rules on subdivisions are also meant to "encourage the wise use and management of natural resources throughout the county to preserve the integrity, stability and beauty of the county and the value of its land."

However, the county would allow a subdivision on more than 40 acres with more divided lots if it was built to full urban design standards, including but not limited to paved roads with curb and gutter, a paved access road, municipal sewer and public water systems, street lights, and sidewalks.

The townships, however, have the constitutional right to their own zoning regulations and issuance of building permits, according to Todd Ellig, who spoke at a recent county board meeting.

Ellig, board chairman for Stanley Township, described confusion for those wanting to build there.

He said what happens in their township is an individual is given a building permit if they have 10 acres of land in a residential zone — but then the county calls and tells the owner they need 40 acres to build.

He said he believes the county does not have the authority to approve, reject or regulate building and zoning within an incorporated township. He said he was begging the county to change its policy as some people are investing hundreds of thousands of dollars in buying property.

Commissioners didn't respond to Ellig because of the pending lawsuit.

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However, Burdick said the 15-year-old county policy is meant to ensure orderly, organized developments in rural settings.

He told commissioners on Tuesday that he could have something to put before the commissioners before October.

County Engineer Jason Benson said state law and the county's home rule charter allow for the county to handle subdivision matters within the county and that all other townships in Cass County allow the county to handle such issues.

An almost 50-year veteran of the newspaper business, Amundson has worked for The Forum and Forum News Service for 15 years. He started as a sport reporter in Minnesota. He is currently the city and night reporter for The Forum. bamundson@forumcomm.com 701-451-5665
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