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Andrea Domaskin, Published September 12 2007

Landowners want different quiet-zone payment option

Many downtown Fargo business owners don’t like a special assessment district created for the city’s railroad quiet zone.

They spoke up last week at a public hearing, and they’re expected to come to the city again next month, members of the city Special Assessment Commission said Tuesday.

The Special Assessment Commission invited city commissioners to Tuesday’s meeting, which was aimed at alerting commissioners to the issues they’ll be hearing Oct. 8. Commissioner Linda Coates attended.

“We just didn’t want you to be blindsided,” Dan Dunn, chairman of the Special Assessment Commission, told Coates.

The Fargo quiet zone, which is nearing completion, is expected to cost about

$2.29 million. Property owners will be assessed $500,000 of the cost.

A special assessment district, which is based on an existing downtown planning district, encompasses an area from Second Avenue South to Sixth Avenue North and University Drive to the Red River.

City Engineer Mark Bittner said the district boundaries were based on the idea that the quiet zone would encourage residential development downtown.

But some business owners said they won’t benefit, Dunn said.

At a Sept. 5 meeting, property owners in the district said the district is smaller than the area that benefits from a whistle-free zone, Coates was told.

Downtown Community Partnership president Dave Anderson, who attended the public hearing last week, said Tuesday that the zone will make crossings so safe that trains don’t have to blow horns.

“The improvements are really to the advantage of anyone who encounters the crossings,” he said. “It’s a communitywide benefit.”

There’s also the question of how to calculate the benefit of a whistle-free zone. Figuring out who is helped most by noise reduction is more difficult than more tangible projects, members of the Special Assessment Commission said.

Another concern is that some property owners will be assessed, while those across the street won’t be charged even though they can still hear the trains.

“We would just like you to know that we are struggling with that analysis right now, Dunn said.

City commissioners could choose to re-establish the special assessment district or it could find another funding source, said Dan Eberhardt, the city special assessment coordinator.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Andrea Domaskin at (701) 241-5556