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Dave Olson, Published September 06 2012

Fargo lifts building permit moratorium on river lots

FARGO – A building permit moratorium on river lot development following the 2009 Red River flood was lifted on Thursday by the Fargo City Commission.

It is unclear if the move will affect a lawsuit filed against the city by Highland Park Properties LLC, a development company that claims the city has made it impossible to build homes on land the company wants to develop north of Fargo.

The property near 64th Avenue North along the Red River is outside of city limits but within Fargo’s extraterritorial area, giving the city control over zoning and building permits.

Rob Manly, an attorney for Highland Park Properties, said Thursday he needed time to determine whether the commission’s action Thursday was a step toward resolution of the case, or an indication litigation would have to continue.

The commission’s decision followed a closed-door meeting Thursday afternoon.

After the building permit moratorium was lifted, Fargo City Attorney Erik Johnson said the city’s river setback ordinance passed last spring remains in place to provide guidance for development near the river.

He said the commission has also directed city staff to look into whether anything more should be done to help guide riverside development between now and next year, when it is expected the Federal Emergency Management Agency will officially adopt new flood plain maps.

Highland Park Properties maintains in its lawsuit that when it purchased the land the property wasn’t in the floodway or subject to city setback rules.

The suit filed in Cass County District Court states that after the city approved the subdivision and related plat in 2006, Highland Park Properties added infrastructure at substantial cost.

When the developer sought to sell the land in 2010, FEMA’s flood maps were in the process of being revised and the new maps placed the land in the flood plain.

Highland Park Properties needed the help of Fargo officials to secure an exemption, and the developer claims the city at first indicated it would provide such help but later backed out.

City leaders allegedly told Highland Park Properties officials that because FEMA’s flood map adjustments put the property in the city’s setback area, building permits would likely not be granted.

The developer claims the city essentially took the land and that Highland Park Properties is entitled to compensation.

The city has denied the allegations and is asking for the lawsuit to be dismissed with prejudice.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Dave Olson at (701) 241-5555