I am not a fan of zoning ordinances. The idea that a government entity can dictate to a property owner what they can and cannot do with their own property – when they are not harming anyone – is repulsive to me. It is antithetical to Liberty and often results in tyrannical implementation. This is especially true of what is known as “extraterritorial zoning” or “extraterritorial areas” (ETA).
I came across an example of this atrocity in the Minot Daily News today. The City of Minot is charging 73 year old Alan Egeberg with a Class B misdemeanor for allegedly violating its zoning ordinances. Egeberg runs a business that is licensed and bonded called AJ Trucks, which lies outside of the city limits, but within the two mile “extraterritorial jurisdiction” allowed by North Dakota state law.
I spoke with Mr. Egeberg this evening. While his case originated in Municipal Court, it has now been moved to North Central District Court. At his appearance yesterday before Judge Todd Cresap, Egeberg requested a jury trial which has been set for December 4th.
It should be pointed out that AJ Trucks is not a new business. According to Mr. Egeberg, he has been in business for 25 years. And this is the first time the city has given him any trouble about violations of zoning ordinances.
According to the Minot Daily News:
“The lots owned by Egeberg are zoned Commercial 2. Neither automotive sales nor a junkyard are permitted on Commerical 2 property. Commercial 2 zoning regulations specifically prohibit ‘outside storage of parts, equipment, or inoperable vehicles,’ which appeared to be prevalent at the time the citation was issued. The action was taken after several conversations with Egeberg and multiple letters sent to him regarding the issue failed to produce any changes.”
Whether Alan Egeberg is technically in violation of the City of Minot’s zoning laws is not the point. Rather, why should he be subject to them at all? Especially considering the fact that he isn’t harming anyone and his business is not in city limits.
Because the city wants to somehow send a message, Mr. Egeberg now faces 30 days in jail and a $1,500 fine. In addition to this, Egeberg was told that if he did not come into compliance that the city would do it for him. Then they would charge him for it. And if he failed to pay, they would then take his property from him. Does that sound like the American ideal to you? It certainly doesn’t to me.
Aside from the problems related to the legal chaos created by the city’s desire to enforce their extraterritorial authority, Egeberg has had to deal with health issues through the ordeal. And as you can imagine, the city has been less than sympathetic to the fact he’s had to travel back and forth to Rochester, MN to deal with them.
Unfortunately, the North Dakota Legislature doesn’t have the moral fortitude to resolve the issue of extraterritorial zoning. This last legislative session Senator Nicole Poolman (R – District 7) introduced legislation (SB 2086) seeking to resolve the issue of those living in extraterritorial jurisdictions not having a vote in city elections. Should we be surprised that the carrier of the bill seeking its defeat was Minot’s own Senator Randall Burckhard (R – District 5)? That bill was soundly defeated 4 – 42.
Rep. Marvin Nelson (D – District 9) did even better than Senator Poolman. He introduced legislation (HB 1258) which would have eliminated extraterritorial zoning altogether. Unfortunately, Rep. Nelson didn’t even bother to rise in defense of his bill on the floor. It too was defeated 17 – 68.
The fact that legislators continue to buy the sorry arguments for keeping ETA’s is mind-boggling. One of the justifications given by Rep. Rich S. Becker (R – District 43) was that they’re necessary for city planning and expansion. Not only is this a horrible excuse, but it actually sheds light on another problematic issue– annexation.
At the end of the day, extraterritorial zoning is a means by which cities are permitted to act like tyrants towards those people with properties not within their boundaries. And the fact that so many are okay with it is a sad reflection of how far removed we are from truly valuing the principles of limited government and personal property rights.