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Erik Burgess, Published March 31 2014

Fargo adds Bluemont Lakes private road to city project despite worries about going down 'slippery slope'

FARGO – Overruling a subcommittee decision, city commissioners voted Monday to allow a south Fargo neighborhood to include repairs to its privately owned road in an upcoming city resurfacing project of a nearby public road.

Some commissioners and city staff, though, warned that this could lead to a slippery slope of subdivisions with private roads asking for more and more city services.

“We’ve had a request from another subdivision to do snow removal on private property,” City Administrator Pat Zavoral said. “So where is this slippery slope going to end?”

The city’s Finance Committee recently decided not to allow improvements to privately owned roads to be paid for with special assessments.

Marv Langerud, president of the Bluemont Lakes Community Service Association, asked the commissioners to overturn that decision and allow the rehabilitation of Fremont Drive, a private road in the south Fargo neighborhood, to be included in the city’s mill and overlay project for nearby 25th Avenue South.

Langerud said the neighborhood joined a similar city project last year when 26th Avenue South was resurfaced.

“This particular request is not for you to provide services but rather to access your engineering and your construction administration and your tax assessment financing arm,” Langerud said.

North Dakota Century Code does not allow assessments for work done on private property, unless 100 percent of affected homeowners sign off on it via a petition, said City Auditor Steve Sprague.

But there is some risk for the city with the petition system, Sprague said. For one, there’s nothing in the petition that says the mortgage holder, such as a bank, has consented to the assessment, Sprague said.

Developers sometimes choose to build private roads because they can be built to a lower standard than public roads and thus are usually cheaper, Sprague said.

Commissioner Tim Mahoney said those lower standards could create issues for crucial city services such as police and fire if more developers build private roads in the future.

“It’s a slippery slope if you have private drives all over the community, where eventually you have to go back in and fix them up,” Mahoney said. “It makes more sense, if we’re going to be having our firetrucks and police in there helping out (those neighborhoods), that maybe we don’t always have private drives.”

Commissioners asked city staff to develop a policy to better handle these situations in the future.

Citing the longstanding history of the Bluemont Lakes neighborhood, commissioners unanimously voted to let Fremont Drive be included on the city’s 25th Avenue South resurfacing project, which should be bid out in May.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Erik Burgess at (701) 241-5518