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Katherine Grandstrand and Katherine Lymn. Forum News Service, Published December 14 2013

For residents on the outskirts of Dickinson, the land isn’t quite rural anymore

DICKINSON, N.D. – When Colleen Rodakowski lived in downtown Dickinson before moving north, life was quieter.

Now, in a division a couple miles north on Highway 22, she says she hears traffic noise inside the house all of the time.

But just like oil wells blending into the prairie or power lines fading into their backgrounds, the zooms of passing traffic are something Rodakowski has adjusted to.

As Dickinson’s population grows, so does its boundaries. Dickinson has added hundreds of acres through annexation over the past few years, bringing the city closer and closer to people who live in the country.

Some residents are excited to have new stores and services close to their homes, while others moved a few miles out of town for peace and quiet that now seems to escape them.

“We’re getting used to it,” Carina Ficek said of the noise.

“Not by choice,” added husband Adolph.

The Ficeks have lived on their farm a couple miles northwest of town for the past two oil booms.

This one, with more wells north of town, is tougher.

“The worst is the traffic,” Adolph Ficek said. “You see the dust fly, and that’s what we’ve eaten a lot of in the last couple years.”

Like Rodakowski, the Ficeks came from town. They lived in Dickinson from 1963 to 1972, but moved to the farm because they had three young kids and worried about traffic.

When they made that move, the northernmost development of town was Goodyear Tire at the corner of Third Avenue West and 21st Street West.

Now, says nearby resident Leo Ehrmantraut, the lights span the southern horizon for these neighbors to the north.

Ehrmantraut spent his entire life in his home off 113th Avenue Southwest.

“When I was a little boy, we could see town but it was kinda a long ways off, and now we’ve got neighbors getting awfully close,” he said.

“With the new Menards, that looks like another town over there.”

For those who had the outskirts of town move to them, the feel is different.

“It’s changed a lot in that respect,” Ehrmantraut said of the environment, “a lot more buildings and a lot more buildings closer to us. And we do see a lot more traffic on the roadways than ever before. It used to be we were way out of town – it was rural. And it’s not quite rural anymore.”

Controversial annexation

When Dickinson was adding all the land to its borders, City Commissioner Gene Jackson was worried about the effects the additional land would have on the city’s boundaries, sometimes voting “no” for annexations.

“My biggest concern – and I think others share that concern – was that we would possibly annex too much land or annex it too fast or annex the wrong land,” Jackson said.

When the city annexed those parcels of land – which include the West Ridge development in west Dickinson and some northern subdivisions – it took responsibility for the land and anyone who resided on it, meaning the expansion of police and fire services, along with garbage routes.

Most of the annexations that took place last autumn were requested by the landowners, Jackson said.

Several people contested the annexation of the Pinecrest Addition in west Dickinson at a City Commission meeting Nov. 19, 2012. Doug Decker, along with Todd and Laura Tooz, spoke out against adding the 400 acres that contained their property. The two properties only accounted for 5 percent of the annexation, and had no effect on the land becoming part of Dickinson.

The Tooz family has since sold their residence to Terry Dvorak, who has not moved in yet but is excited to live near the retail corridor that is promised in that location.

When annexing about 325 acres of land in north Dickinson, city staff and the commission ended up in court with landowners in the area nearly three years ago, The Press previously reported. The parcel was annexed twice to assure the process was completed properly.

“The annexation activity has slowed – there was a flurry there for a while,” Jackson said. “We’ve been able to get our arms around some of the questions we’ve had at that time.”

The biggest reason for the annexation was to allow for commercial and residential growth, Jackson said.

“I think the biggest negative impact we have in Dickinson right now is the cost of housing,” he said. “I’m convinced that we’ll solve that in the long term, and the way you do that is you have more lots available to build, you have more apartments available to rent – simply have more houses on the market to bring the cost of that housing down.”

The challenge is finding the right balance, Jackson said.

“We do walk a tightrope sometimes,” Jackson said. “We don’t want to go to fast, but at the same time we need to keep building all kinds of housing to keep these housing costs down.”

Development vs. tradition

Dean and Lee Ann Karsky have been running their dairy farm since the late 1980s and have lived there for more than 30 years.

On top of the land where they used to grow feed for their cattle now sits Menards, the soon-to-open home improvement big-box store, along with a couple of hotels and apartment buildings with more commercial property slated to be built in the next construction season.

“It just depends on how fast they develop,” Lee Ann Karsky said. “Down the road, if we lose more rental land, it’s going to be harder for us to put crops up. We need a certain amount of land to fulfill our needs for feed for the cows.”

For the most part, the couple doesn’t mind the growth. But they’re losing the land they rent to grow feed for their cattle, Lee Ann Karsky said. They tried to purchase the land before the development started out west, but their landlords weren’t interested in selling at the time and now the land is out of their price range.

“We can’t offer them that type of money for crop ground because we’d never make it,” she said.

Purchasing feed would also price them out, Lee Ann said.

“It’s really hard to purchase feed and make a go of it,” Lee Ann said. “It’s almost impossible for it to pencil out.”

Dean’s father owned the farm before Lee Ann and Dean purchased it in 1995. At that time, they were 3 miles outside of Dickinson.

“Back when Dean was in high school, they used to milk,” Lee Ann said. “Then they started up again in ’88 and it’s been going since then.”

Earlier this year the Karskys addressed the Dickinson Planning and Zoning Commission to warn them about some of the unpleasant smells that come from the operation a few times a year, and would likely affect the residents of apartments planned near their farm at West Ridge Second Addition – a development that has been platted but where no major construction has started.

“We empty our lagoon twice a year, we put manure out, we have cows, and that’s not going to change,” Lee Ann said.

The development out west will most likely not end Karsky Dairy, Lee Ann said.

“I don’t see that they’re going to get it built in the amount of years that we’ll still be dairying,” Lee Ann said. “I’m thinking that it will be another five to 10 years, and maybe, hopefully by that time, we’re ready to retire.”

Maintaining safety

Carina Ficek and her husband never used to lock their doors.

Now, because of increased traffic near them on 112th Avenue Southwest and the stories everyone hears, they often lock up.

Rodakowski said in just the two years she’s lived in the development along 33rd Street Southwest, she has seen a decline in people walking.

Some residents – like the Rodakowskis – are affected doubly by the construction of the bypass route connecting Interstate 94 west of Dickinson with Highway 22 north of the city.

Crews have began paving the reliever route along 30th Avenue West, connecting it to 33rd Street Southwest.

The North Dakota Department of Transportation plans to create a new exit – Exit 56 – along 116th Avenue Southwest, which will be connected to 33rd Street Southwest.

Animals must not feel safe either, Rodakowski said, adding that she used to see deer and pheasants – but not anymore.

“We didn’t ever think town was gonna get this close,” Adolph Ficek said, looking out his kitchen window onto a far-off apartment development interrupting their once rural view.

Ehrmantraut used to tell his wife that he wanted to retire to town.

“Now we don’t have to move.”