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Grand Forks lacks some interest for high-density development

Although some say building denser is more efficient for cities, local experts say Grand Forks doesn’t seem to be at that point yet.

“I think that we’ll get there,” said Jonathan Holth, president of the Grand Forks Downtown Development Association board of directors.

Holth is one who would argue that building denser — as in, more buildings closer together — is more efficient for cities. Among the benefits is that if buildings are closer together or taller, it can reduce infrastructure costs, he said.

But many developers in town are hesitant to take some risks associated with high-density cities, said Ryan Brooks, deputy city planner. Higher-density “building up” with something like a five-story building is unusual for Grand Forks and can be expensive.

Many developers are opting for smaller lots, though, because of cost, Brooks said, and that contributes to higher density.

Also, the market in Grand Forks isn’t necessarily looking for only condos in tall buildings or houses with close, small lots, Brooks said. There are still many people who value having a large yard or space for a two-car garage, he said.

“I don’t know if we have the market for (high density neighborhoods) or if we don’t have developers ready to give that a shot,” he said.

High density

Grand Forks is already denser than Fargo, with more people per square mile of the city’s land area.

There are 2,654.5 people per square mile in Grand Forks, compared with Fargo’s 2,162 people per square mile, according to the 2010 U.S. Census.

Holth said there are many benefits to high-density cities, and the DDA is encouraging that type of building in downtown Grand Forks.

High-density neighborhoods are often designed with apartments and amenities close together, so residents are within walking distance of groceries, shopping, entertainment and more, Holth said.

He expects Grand Forks will turn to higher density development downtown in the future, he said.

“When it comes to density and the urban core, it’s something we’re seeing a larger interest in for millennials,” or people in their 20s and 30s, Holth said. For example, vacancy rates for housing downtown, which is denser than parts of Grand Forks, are extremely low, he said.

Charly Haley
Charly Haley covers city government for the Grand Forks Herald. As night reporter, she also has many general assignments. Before working at the Herald, she was a reporter at the Jamestown Sun and interned at The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead, Detroit Lakes Newspapers and the St. Cloud Times. Haley is a graduate of Minnesota State University Moorhead, and her hometown is Sartell, Minn.
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