I’ve written pretty extensively about the fight in Williston over “man camps,” but that city has been fighting a lot of different types of mobile, temporary businesses for years now.
And that has been a mistake, as we can see now in 2016.
The man camps, or crew camps, are housing facilities catering to energy and construction industry workers who are in North Dakota for long stretches of time but do not want to commit to an apartment lease or a mortgage. Common sense tells us that, in a region with a lot of those sort of jobs, this sort of housing makes sense.
But there isn’t a lot of sense in Williston’s municipal leadership these days. The city commission has in place a law change to ban the facilities this summer. When the companies operating the facilities tried to strike a compromise with the city, pushing back the date they must close, the city rejected that as well.
Now, according to the Dickinson Press, the whole mess seems headed to litigation.
But it didn’t have to be this way.
One refrain from those trying to justify the city’s war on temporary housing is that the developers of more permanent lodging – those who built hotels and apartments and single-family homes – is that investors were promised the crew camps” were temporary.
If the City of Williston made such a promise, shame on them. They shouldn’t have. And if the result of that promise was investors over-developing Williston’s housing market, that’s on the city. Not the camps.
It seems Williston’s city leaders have no grasp of basic economics. In a boom situation, where while fluctuations in demand for services are the norm, it’s folly to implement policy promoting permanent development.
Way back in 2012 I was writing about the city’s fight against mobile, temporary businesses like the “man camps” and even food trucks. “City leaders have also begun limiting temporary structures, such as food vendors, man camps and RVs, in an effort to encourage more permanent development,” Amy Dalrymple reported back then.
In 2016 we can see how short-sighted that policy was.
Mobile businesses can be moved when demand dries up. Permanent business cannot, and become vacant eyesores.
No matter how this legal battle over man camps plays out, it’s clear Williston could use a more forward-thinking sort of leadership.