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Heidi Shaffer, Published August 24 2010

Fargo special assessment protests rejected

City leaders want to examine development policies with the Fargo School District after receiving significant protest over a construction project near the new Davies High School.

The Fargo City Commission rejected protests by homeowners against special assessments for a road project near the south Fargo school, but two commissioners said the issue calls into question how well the city’s growth plan fits in with district plans.

“I think we need to have very open discussion about how we apply our development tools, and the school district is a huge part of that,” Commissioner Mike Williams said.

Commissioner Brad Wimmer said he wishes school board leaders would be more visible to the public to defend the need for a school and the surrounding infrastructure and roads.

“They seem to kind of lay low when we catch the heat for these specials,” Wimmer said.

Wimmer and Williams were the two dissenting votes against proclaiming the protests by 419 homeowners insufficient because they constituted just 20 percent of the land owned in the district, instead of the needed 50 percent.

Mayor Dennis Walaker and commissioners Dave Piepkorn and Tim Mahoney voted in favor of rejecting the protests.

Ben Davidson, a protesting resident who lives on 64th Avenue South, will owe about $20,000 in special assessments.

Davidson agreed that the commission needs to look at its policies for such improvement districts, but their discussion tonight doesn’t help residents near this paving project along 25th Street from 58th to 73rd avenues south.

Some landowners who saw large assessments, which in some cases exceeded $50,000 or $60,000 because of their large lots, qualify for a city deferral on a portion of their charges to ease their transition from a rural subdivision to a city residential area.

Those who sign deferrals with the city waive their right to protest the project, which drove down the percentage of land included in the protests, Davidson said.

City Engineer Mark Bittner said many of the residents along 25th Street who stand to see the most benefit did not protest because “they’re sick of the dust.”

Walaker said the road needs to be updated from gravel to concrete and that the city is following its assessment policies.

“Just because it’s city policy doesn’t mean it’s right,” Davidson said after the meeting.

Bids for the project begin Sept. 1, which meant engineers needed a decision from the commission to stay on schedule for the school’s opening next fall.

Both Williams and Wimmer expressed frustration that the discussion came down to such a tight timeline.

“I would have liked to see more time for discussion,” Wimmer said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Heidi Shaffer at (701) 241-5511