Argus Leader: Officials tailor bill for Laurent

Proposal allows McCook County to set requirements

SAM BURRISH

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Published: 05/18/05 1:55 am

SALEM - Despite continuing opposition, the McCook County Commission voted Tuesday to keep working on a zoning bill that would allow a town for people who use sign language to be developed near Salem.

The bill would allow the proposed town of Laurent but would not let other planned communities crop up throughout the county.

Zoning Administrator John Knox said the proposal would foster organized, controlled economic development.

“We need the people moving into the area,” Knox said. “(The proposal) may be an example for other areas in South Dakota to help growth.”

The county board must approve a new zoning ordinance before Laurent can be built.

Under McCook County’s zoning, there are no provisions for the type of growth Laurent could bring. Zoning is categorized by land use, which does not provide for the formation of new communities.

The commission chose to move forward with a planned development model for Laurent. Unlike previous proposals, the new plan grants the county more power to set requirements.

Knox said any additional county regulations probably would focus on the development’s location, preferably near a “major thoroughfare” - Laurent’s 275-acre site occupies the southeast corner of Highway 81 and Interstate 90.

Also, the county wants to make sure the town will not encroach on agricultural land.

During the past month, McCook residents have voiced concerns about the economic and environmental effects of the new town.

But the issue of how the town would grow in an agricultural area drew questions after Knox read Tuesday’s draft. A dozen McCook County residents attended the public meeting.

Marie Haala, co-owner of the Camp America campground south of Salem, said the commission is rushing the plan and should further study the town.

If Laurent booms, she wondered whether the town would gobble surrounding farmland. Haala said preserving the agricultural community, rather than bolstering economic growth, should be the commission’s top priority.

“Change of this kind should be years of plans, not a ‘Get it done by August’ thing,” Haala said.

Other McCook County residents have questioned everything from Laurent Co.’s financial package to whether the new town’s tax base can fund education for its school-aged residents.

State’s Attorney Roger Gerlach said Laurent won’t break ground until the company shows it has the money to complete the project, guarding against any potential shortfall.

So far, Laurent co-founder Marvin Miller has estimated developing the site could cost “well over $100 million.”

McCook County Commission Chairman Marc Dick said he isn’t completely sold on the idea, even though he agreed to further pursue the plan.

“It’s a pilot. We’ll see how good it works - if it works at all,” he said.

Tuesday’s motion came as a much-anticipated boon for Miller.

“We think the county’s proposal is very good,” Miller said through a translator.

He would like to see the same principles applied countywide.

Miller said he hopes the county will use ideas in the proposal to better regulate how people are building near farmland, such as the Lake Vermillion area.

“As the growth happens, people will probably want to adopt to a plan for compact development,” he said.

If passed, Laurent would be the first town designed specially for people who use sign language. Its developers tout the proposed community as a place where people who use sign language can fully integrate within a society.

Almost 100 families with people who are deaf, hard of hearing or want to communicate through sign language have publicly expressed intent to live in the town, with some residents coming from Europe and Australia.

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