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Andi Murphy, Published July 23 2010

Unsightly lot to be transformed

A patch of weeds behind the Cass County Courthouse is soon to be transformed into the new addition to the building.

The $14-million, 60,000-square-foot addition project is slated to begin Tuesday, and a large hole has been dug to test the foundation, said County Administrator Bonnie Johnson.

After the old Cass County Jail was torn down in 2003, the space was left vacant because of a legal battle between the county and citizen John Strand over the demolition of the jail, which blocked any development. The case was completed when Strand lost in 2005.

For about seven years, the back lot of the courthouse has been filled with weeds.

“It’s going to be a construction site any minute now,” Johnson said. “It’s got rocks, stones, dips in it. It’s nothing a professional mower would ever want his equipment to be on because it would be harmful to a professional mower’s equipment.”

That’s where courthouse inmates come in. When weather permits, an inmate is sent out with a weed trimmer to knock down growth.

Around dandelion season, the lot is sprayed for dandelions and noxious weeds. In the winter, the space is used for snow storage. In the summer, it needs little or no maintenance, Johnson said.

Public buildings should be held to higher aesthetic standards because they belong to the people, Johnson said.

Every spring, public buildings get replanted with flowers, which Johnson picks out herself. These sites are maintained by contracted mowers, except the back lot of the courthouse, she said.

City ordinance states property owners need to keep grass under 8 inches tall and weeds to a minimum. Noxious weeds must be nonexistent, too, Myron Berglund, Fargo environmental health manager, said.

The patch of weeds behind the courthouse is unsightly but not in violation of city ordinance.

The city environmental health department goes by a complaint basis the majority of the time, Berglund said.

He said there have been no complaints about the courthouse’s disheveled back lot.

After all, people get married at the courthouse and take pictures on the well-groomed front lawn where day lilies, impatiens and irises bloom red, orange and white.

In the back is another story. About a third of it is a parking lot, off to the north is a shed used for maintenance, and the rest of it is wild grasses and weeds.

“It doesn’t bother me because I’m never there,” said Heidi Selzler, resident of a neighboring apartment complex.

Although overgrown grassy areas are a breeding ground for mosquitoes and may be unsightly, Selzler is not too worried about the vacant lot behind the courthouse.

“I’d be surprised if anyone was bothered by it,” Joy McCormick, another neighbor, said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Andi Murphy at (701) 235-7311.