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Published November 30 2012

City suing Fort Noks owner for parking lot not meeting city standards

FARGO – A Broadway bar owner who serves on the Fargo Parking Commission is being sued by the city for not bringing his private parking lot next to the bar up to city standards.

The civil lawsuit was filed late Thursday in Cass County District Court against 52 Broadway LLC, the business entity of Fort Noks Bar of Gold owner Rick Engen.

For years, city officials have pushed for Engen to develop his 12,544-square-foot lot north of the bar. The gravel lot has been vacant since after an April 30, 2000, fire destroyed three buildings on the property.

Fargo Planning Director Jim Gilmour said city planners want Engen to develop the lot or sell it to someone else, adding that the city has received complaints about the lot’s appearance.

“We’d really like to see a project there, and in the interim, if he’s going to use it, he needs to comply with the law like everyone else has to,” Gilmour said Friday.

Engen bought a portion of the lot from the city’s Housing and Redevelopment Authority. As part of the deed transfer in March 2004, Engen agreed to a restrictive covenant that, “The use of the property shall be consistent with the DMU (Downtown Mixed Use) of Fargo, the Land Development Code and the Renaissance Zone Development Plan,” the lawsuit states.

The lawsuit claims Engen’s unlit, unfenced, gravel parking lot violates the covenant. The city is asking the court to require Engen to bring the property up to city standards and to award the city costs and disbursements.

Engen said Friday that he had a Renaissance Zone project approved for the property, but “the economy took a pullback.”

The project, which was approved by the Renaissance Zone Authority in 2002, called for a three-story building with commercial and office space on the upper two floors and retail on the main floor.

Engen said a problem with the property is that the city didn’t engineer the fill after the burned buildings were demolished. As a result, he said he’s had to haul in dozens of truckloads of dirt over the years to keep the settling lot level.

He said he doesn’t want to have to dig up the lot, put in engineered fill and pave over it just to have to tear it up again when the lot is eventually developed.

“I’m the only owner of the property, so it’s just my resources funding this,” he said.

Gilmour didn’t dispute that the fill may not have been engineered.

“But unless you know the end use, you don’t know what kind of fill to put in. And so we would prefer to put a building there and prefer to see it excavated,” he said.

The lawsuit claims Engen “has refused to take any action,” despite the city sending him letters in June, July and August 2011 demanding that he bring the lot up to code and requesting that he “cease the operation of the parking lot in its non-conforming manner.”

Engen was served with the summons and complaint on Feb. 2. Since then, his attorney has been working with Ron McLean, an outside attorney hired by the city, to try to resolve the matter, said Fargo City Attorney Erik Johnson.

Johnson said he isn’t sure what triggered the lawsuit’s filing on Thursday. McLean couldn’t be reached for comment.

Engen referred questions about his response to the lawsuit to his attorney, who was out of the office Friday.

Engen said he uses about half of the parking spaces for his business and tenants in the 101-year-old Fargo National Bank building that houses Fort Noks. He said he leases the rest of the spaces to downtown business people.

Engen has served on the Parking Commission since 2002. When he was reappointed in November 2010, City Commissioner Brad Wimmer cast the lone dissenting vote, saying he had concerns about Engen serving on the Parking Commission while negotiations were taking place regarding the parking lot.

City Commissioner Mike Williams, who serves on the Parking Commission with Engen, said Engen would recuse himself from voting when the topic came up, according to the minutes of the Nov. 1, 2010, meeting.

Engen’s term on the Parking Commission expires June 30.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Mike Nowatzki at (701) 241-5528