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Map locates sex offender buffers in Fargo

FARGO After seeing a map that shows where the residency restrictions he's proposing for sex offenders would fall, Dave Piepkorn is comfortable with the reach of the potential new city law. Buffers banning Level II and Level III sex offenders from...

FARGO

After seeing a map that shows where the residency restrictions he's proposing for sex offenders would fall, Dave Piepkorn is comfortable with the reach of the potential new city law.

Buffers banning Level II and Level III sex offenders from living within 1,200 feet of a school or a public playground or pool would still leave some stretches of Fargo open, according to a draft of a map generated by the city's planning office.

"It isn't like the whole city would be off-limits," said Piepkorn, a Fargo city commissioner.

After a heated debate earlier this year over a facility that would have housed sex offenders and other former inmates - plans Fargo's zoning board and commission rejected - Piepkorn said he wants the city to enact limits on where sex offenders can live.

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A draft of the ordinance could be considered by the City Commission as early as next month, Piepkorn said Tuesday. City officials studying the buffer law met Monday, a group including Police Chief Keith Ternes.

Ternes has criticized the proposal and called it a "feel-good" law that could do more harm than good. He's worried it could push more offenders away from mandated registration with the police department.

A peek at the map of the no-offender zones did nothing to alter the chief's take.

"I have the same concerns and reservations. I'm still not convinced they really do anything toward ensuring the safety of kids or anybody else," he said.

Police haven't yet studied how many of the 150 or so registered sex offenders in Fargo would be forced to move, but Piepkorn said he'll be asking for an estimate on that figure.

"My first impression is there would be a significant number affected by this," Ternes said.

The proposed ordinance will likely be limited to the offenders the state deems a moderate risk or a high risk to reoffend, categories that account for about 25 percent of Fargo offenders.

Sex offenders already in Fargo who would have to move would have a year to do so under the proposal as it stands now, said City Attorney Erik Johnson.

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Those who move into the state and are waiting for a risk classification would have 90 days to move if they were living in a buffer zone, Johnson said.

City attorneys will also discuss the concept with lawyers from the attorney general's office to make sure the ordinance would not interfere with any state policies on offenders and to make sure it could withstand legal challenges.

Piepkorn said Monday's meeting raised another issue that concerned him, as he'd heard the state Department of Corrections has a facility of some sort for offenders in Fargo.

"I am troubled by that," he said. "I don't think they should be able to do that without our permission."

City permission might be needed under another new law Piepkorn is planning to propose that would require a zoning permit for group homes meant for offenders, though new zoning restrictions don't typically apply to nonconforming uses that were previously legal.

However, an apartment unit at 1315 1st Ave. N. that was leased for a time by the Department of Corrections is no longer being leased by the DOC and hasn't been for several months, Fargo police Lt. Pat Claus said.

Barb Breiland, program manager for the state's Sex Offender Specialist Unit, told The Forum in 2008 that the apartment unit was for transitional housing.

The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead and the Herald are Forum Communications Co. newspapers.

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