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Erik Burgess, Published April 01 2014

Controversial north Fargo housing proposal gets initial OK

FARGO – A controversial north Fargo housing development received initial approval Tuesday from the city’s Planning Commission despite dozens of neighbors showing up to oppose the project, which one resident called an “incursion into our beautiful, serene neighborhood.”

The Edgewood Estates development, proposed by Comstock Holding Co., would turn 89 acres of the former Cardinal Muench Seminary site at 100 35th Ave. N. along the Red River into a 60-home residential development.

City officials said they have received numerous complaints about the proposal, and several homeowners who spoke at Tuesday’s meeting said the development would increase traffic in a relatively quiet area of Fargo, which could devalue property.

Resident Nancy Gustafson said existing, nearby homeowners could also be on the hook to help pay for improvements to Golf Course Avenue, which is now a private road owned by the Park District but will need to be made into a public road for the development.

“So it brings down our values, and we have to pay for it,” Gustafson said.

Levee improvement costs

It appears that nearby homeowners won’t be on the hook for improvements to the levee behind the former seminary, though.

The levee was built during an emergency pre-2009 and needs to be upgraded. City Engineer April Walker previously said that the cost of that work would be specially assessed to any benefiting properties, which could include existing homes not in the proposed development area.

But at Tuesday’s meeting, Joe Nigg, a city planner, said the developer has indicated it will pay for all of the levee work needed.

Jim Deibert, who lives on nearby Birdie Street, asked the developer to “go on record.” Mike Love, of Houston Engineering, who was representing the developer, said it was true.

“It is the developer’s intent to pay the full cost of the Edgewood Estates levee,” Love said.

Deibert immediately asked: “Now, the ‘intent’ means ‘for sure?’ ”

City Commissioner Melissa Sobolik assured Deibert the City Commission could “hold them to that” promise.

Preliminary plat

After hearing several comments from residents, the Planning Commission unanimously voted to approve the preliminary plat, which is a high-level concept to make sure a proposed development generally fits with Fargo’s land development code and growth plan, Nigg said.

A final, more detailed plat still needs to be submitted for approval by the Planning Commission and ultimately the City Commission, which would require more public hearings, Nigg said.

The city is also waiting on the results of a traffic impact study, which should be done next week.

Jeff Morrau, a Planning Commission member, said infill projects have value.

“With that said, when this plat comes forward as a final version, I will be much more critical in terms of the traffic impact and so forth,” Morrau said. “The only reason this will gain any support from me today is solely to see the next step in that process.”

Standing room only

It was standing room only in the City Commission chamber Tuesday. The room was so packed that audience members spilled into the hallway, where they had to watch the meeting on television monitors.

Some residents said the development would put homes too close to the river. Duane Lillehaug said he has lived on Par Street North and had the seminary in his backyard since 1984.

“As a matter of public policy, we ought to pause and think about whether or not the development of more houses along the river is the best solution for Fargo,” he said.

Walker said the city is making the developer build the homes at a higher elevation and flood-proof those homes to a 41-foot flood event, the city’s new standard.

“We have one of the most aggressive flood-proofing policies out there now,” Walker said.

Rocky Schneider, a Planning Commission member, said the development could help nearby Longfellow Elementary, which he said has struggled with low attendance.

One homeowner – who later declined to give his name – said the project was an “incursion into our beautiful, serene neighborhood up north.”

But the project has its supporters.

Patricia Mathern, who lives on County Road 31 north of Fargo, said she and others are “very excited” about the proposal.

“There are people interested in seeing this being developed and in possibly moving up there,” she said. “There’s lot of people that want to live in north Fargo. There is no other expansion. There’s no new homes going in there.”

Her comment got a round of applause from some who were watching from the atrium.

After the meeting, Mathern said she remembers being concerned about more traffic coming through her neighborhood when nearby Highland Park was developed.

“You adapt. You adjust,” she said. “You have to.”


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