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Heidi Shaffer, Published September 08 2010

Davies projects move forward despite Fargo city commissioner's protest

A road project along 25th Street South near the new Davies High School will go forward as planned despite protest by Fargo Commissioner Mike Williams.

Williams voted Tuesday to reject a bid for paving work in the much-debated special assessment district near Fargo’s newest high school.

The commission accepted the bids with a 4-1 vote, moving the project forward. But discussion over the assessments has the city considering changes to the way in which it funds infrastructure projects in the future.

“I think it’s time to take a look at our specials and see if it’s out of line,” City Engineer Mark Bittner said.

Fargo has looked at its special assessments policy twice in Bittner’s career, and in both cases findings led the city to stick with its approach, he said.

“We know it’s not an easy task financing these projects,” said City Administrator Pat Zavoral.

The project under debate calls for a three-lane roadway, with two lanes in each direction and a left turning lane. Sewer, utilities, bike paths, streetlights and three roundabouts for speed control are also included in the cost of the $10.3 million project.

Total special assessments top $5.4 million, with city sales tax and sewer utility funds making up the rest.

Homeowners along the corridor are being assessed for the equivalent of a smaller asphalt road with city sales tax making up the difference for the larger-scale project, Bittner said.

The city has also capped the amount homeowners with larger lots are assessed.

Clarence Samuel, a homeowner on 64th Avenue South and a former city planning commissioner, said the city should take a look at lowering that cap to ease assessments for large-lot owners.

But Samuel said he agrees the street projects should be done as planned.

“I would rather see it done once and correct than come back and redo it,” he said.

The planned roadway was bigger and more expensive than what is needed for the largely undeveloped area, Williams said.

“There are ways to build a future friendly road for less expense,” Williams said.

Williams said he would like to encourage development to fill in and take advantage of the “world-class infrastructure” the city is putting in place rather than continually expanding it.

Bittner said the engineering department looked at a two-lane asphalt road that would cost about half of the current three-lane concrete proposal, but that road would need to be replaced once development caught up.

“I think it’s better to do it today than in five or 10 years,” Commissioner Brad Wimmer said, adding development in the area will likely move quickly once Davies opens its doors next fall.

The use of specials and deferrals needs to be an ongoing conversation in the city’s future growth plan, Wimmer added.

Deferrals allow developers to delay payment on assessments until land is developed and pass the cost onto future homebuyers.

The city has used deferrals to spur development, but they may be a tool the city starts to employ only in certain situations instead of across the board, Commissioner Dave Piepkorn said.

Walaker said he supports the project because it helps traffic and pedestrian safety, and “building twice is more expensive than building once,” he said.

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