As residential development pulls Grand Forks farther south, city staff say it's almost time to consider expanding westward.

"We have about a mile left between 62nd Avenue South and the end of our flood protection system," said Deputy City Planner Ryan Brooks, with 62nd Avenue South being the end of current city limits. "We're about at the point when we're going to have to begin pushing to the west."

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Increased south-end development was one of several topics the Grand Forks City Council discussed with department heads Monday night, in addition to the 2020 budget and workforce development.

A few years ago, Brooks said the city had a limited supply of developable land for the construction of single-family homes and duplexes.

"We were having issues," he said. "We had housing task forces that were taking place all the way back to 2012, when we were forecasting some issues that were affecting prices. ... And we didn't see that as a positive for the city, in the long run."

The Grand Forks City Council decided to increase the city's number of residential lots by temporarily deferring special assessments for developers seeking to build single-family homes and duplexes. The council also agreed to permanently give property owners an additional five years to pay their special assessment shares, and to decrease the interest mark-up on those payments from 1.5% to 1%.

As of 2018, the city had 443 developable lots for single-family homes and duplexes. Each lot is big enough for one house, and each of these lots is fitted with necessary infrastructure, such as access to roads, utility and communication lines. By the end of 2019, city staff anticipate Grand Forks will have another 113 developable lots.

If the city approves permits for construction on about 120 of these lots per year, Brooks said the lots could be fully developed in just under four years.

"We have a pretty good supply of lots now. I would say that's a healthy supply," said Brooks.

Planning staff have reported another 346 lots are almost available, minus some missing infrastructure the city would have to add and assess to property owners. According to Brooks, the city typically won't add such infrastructure without a request from a developer.

Most of the available lots Brooks discussed with the council are south-end, near 47th Avenue South and 62nd Avenue South.

The cost of growth

During Monday night's strategic planning session, City Engineer Al Grasser told the council Grand Forks still has a lot of development-related infrastructure to build not only south of 62nd Avenue South, but west past Interstate 29.

From an engineering perspective, that includes everything from lift stations for wastewater, storm ponds, roads and underground utilities.

"There are other issues as well," said council member Bret Weber. "I know we recently had to build another fire station, not because the population increased, but just because of our spreading. At what point do we need to be looking to add another fire station? At what point do we need to consider the added expenses of garbage collection and snow removal? ...There's strong evidence that the return on investment and increased revenue doesn't cover the expense of this kind of sprawl."

To encourage more westward development, Brooks said the city would have to build something to buffer future residential development from existing commercial and industrial development.