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Hancock Concrete questions new city ordinance about occupancy

Over the last few months, the Hancock City Council members have been working on adopting an ordinance that they felt would address any future problems due to population growth. Specifically they directed the ordinance toward private homes for issues such as over-crowding, health and safety concerns and the affect on property values.

The ordinance is loosely refered to as an occupancy ordinance and regulates the number of non-related people who can occupy a single residence. The ordinance the council approved last month was copied from a similar ordinance adopted in a metro city.  The ordinance allows for up to three unrelated individuals or two related and two unrelated.  Families of five or more are not allowed any unrelated individuals regardless of the size of the home.

Several community members and representatives from Hancock Concrete, attended the December meeting of the city council to question the ordinance and strongly encourage the council members to reconsider its adoption. After asking several questions about the ordinance and getting few answers, these representatives told the council members that they felt the ordinance was targetting a specific ethnic group and the council members were ‘treading on dangerous waters.’

David Schmidgall from Hancock Concrete, asked several questions of the council. He first asked what and when this was initiated which eventually came down to shortly after their company had approached the council about a conditional use permit for possible housing in the former Evangelical Free Church building.

Mayor Bruce Malo attempted to answer most of the questions Schmidgall asked. Schmidgall wanted to know what type of study the council did before enacting the ordinance. He also asked how this affected renters where there may be four unrelated people residing in a home or apartment.  Schmidgall asked what would happen if his family of five hosted a foreign exchange student and the council confirmed the family would be fined with a misdemeanor under the ordinance.

He also added that  with Hancock being close to a University there would be opportunity for four unrealated students looking to rent an apartment in Hancock but this ordinance would make that a misdemeanor as well.

Schmidgall went on to ask about the enforcement and penalty portion of the ordinance. Malo responded that the enforcement would probably be up to Police Chief Matt Flogstad and City Clerk Jennifer Ver Steeg. The penalty for violating the ordinance is a misdemeanor.

“What was the real problem in Hancock?” Schmidgall asked. “What was the council trying to fix? You have passed an ordinance for a problem that doesn’t even exist.”

Schmidgall went on to add that fortunately the ordinance would not affect Hancock Concrete employees as they would likely have two of the four in each unit be related or  would only put three in a unit. However, he could not help but think that the timing coincided with Hancock Concrete providing jobs for some hispanic people. This has been the course Hancock Concrete has needed to take in order to fill the many open positions at their facility.  

Malo told Schmidgall that he did not take into account any specific group or nationality when considering the ordinance. He did admit that the council may not have thought of some of the things brought up and they may need to ‘tweak’ the ordinance somewhat.

Justin Cronen, representing Hancock Economic Development Authority, also spoke up about the ordinance. He stated that there has been a lot of growth in the community and at the school when many similar size towns struggle with this. There has been a shortage of labor when most areas have high unemployment rates. There is even a housing shortage in the town which can be viewed as good in some ways.

“The big thing is how we treat that growth,” said Cronen. “We need to find ways to welcome people to the community and feed that growth.”

He added that community leaders and businesses need to work together so that the business is not forced to look to other communities to accomodate the growth. It is a concern when an ordinance is passed that creates a burden for employers.

After hearing the concerns from the taxpayers in the audience and thanking them for coming, the council members agreed to take another look at the ordinance.