Argus Leader Editorial: A chance for Laurent

McCook smartly tries to create framework in which sign language town can thrive

Published: 05/31/05

Anyone who thinks the McCook County Commission is rushing headlong in support of Laurent - a town proposed for people who use sign language - isn’t paying attention.

“It’s a pilot,” said commission Chairman Marc Dick. “we’ll see how good it works - if it works at all.”

Despite that obvious doubt, the commission is moving forward - slowly and deliberately - with a zoning ordinance that would allow the $100 million, 275-acre project at Highway 81 and Interstate 90.

Why? Because it represents economic development needed by the county.

“We need the people moving into the area,” said county zoning administrator John Knox.

But commissioners and zoning officials are being careful as they move forward, because they share some of the concerns expressed by residents:

# What about encroachment on agricultural land?

# What about paying for education of new students?

# What about financial stability?

# What about environmental effects?

# What about effects on existing businesses?

Unspoken - at least publicly - is the idea that this whole concept is just plain strange and will bring people to McCook County who are different from the majority of residents there now. They’ll be deaf or hard of hearing, and they’ll all be using sign language.

After all, this would be the first town of this type in the nation - designed and populated specifically for people who use sign language.

To its credit, the commission hasn’t sunk to that level of debate. Instead, it’s focused on real concerns about the effect on infrastructure and education, and encroachment.

County zoning regulations had no provision at all for such a development. The rules covered land use, not construction of entirely new towns.

County officials, then, had two choices when the idea was presented:

# Throw up their hands and say, “Zoning laws don’t allow it.”

# Figure out how to make it work while addressing the concerns.

They took the right approach. Instead of rolling out the roadblocks, commissioners and others started looking for ways to make this a successful development.

In the end, perhaps they’ll fail. After all, there will be a special election on this. Or maybe the project will fail on its own.

But county commissioners embarked on an unprecedented project, the development of a new town, a unique development. And they did so with a positive attitude.

It “may be an example for other areas in South Dakota to help growth,” Knox said.

That’s possible. More important, though, is the example the McCook County Commission is setting for all development. Look first to see if it can be made to work - instead of automatically rejecting it. If it can’t be done, it can’t. But at least the attempt has been made.

It’s a good model to follow.

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