The development plans presented last month to Grand Forks City Council members weren’t exactly momentous, but they’re, nonetheless, putting a big question to city leaders.
A hoped-for development in southern Grand Forks would build strip malls, offices, apartments, condos, townhomes, single-family homes, plus a park or two southeast of the intersection of 62nd Avenue and Washington Street. Another aims to build a series of mostly single-family homes on 12,000- to 15,000-square-foot lots at 62nd and Belmont Road.
The presentation last month was a check-in rather than a request for approval -- those are expected to come later as both proposals wind their way through Grand Forks City Hall over the next several months.
And “big decisions come with that,” according to Deputy City Planner Ryan Brooks.
That’s because both projects extend beyond the city’s existing infrastructure. The 62nd and Washington project would eventually need at least $7.95 million worth of piping, stormwater ponds, additional drainage systems and a new sewage station, according to city staff. The city itself would be on the hook for an estimated $5.46 million of that total.
Something similar is true for the 62nd and Belmont project, which is on the “wet” side of Grand Forks’ flood protection system and would need a $500,000 stormwater pond, of which the city would chip in $75,000.
The city also would need to annex both areas so it could extend utility service to them and, beyond that, building homes beyond 62nd might behoove the Grand Forks Fire Department to move a fire station or build a brand-new one to cover the newly built-up area.
“I was so prepared to not like this, and I find myself kind of excited about it,” City Council member Bret Weber, who’s previously worried about Grand Forks’ “sprawl,” said of the first development plan last month. “If it’s north of 62nd, we’re doing infill because we have the infrastructure in place to accommodate this. South, this becomes sprawl … Although, as sprawl goes, this is the kind of development that we need.”
For the city, growing south of 62nd is more like passing a mile marker than reaching the end of the road. That’s because Grand Forks’ “land use plan,” which was most recently updated in 2016 and is set to be updated again beginning this summer, calls for development as far south as Merrifield Road, where the city’s flood protection system terminates. The current plan outlines city planning goals through 2045, and the updated one would cover the same through 2050.
In the 2045 plan, the city would work to extend residential areas south from 62nd to 69th Avenue, which is about halfway to Merrifield Road. After that, it would aim to fill in the remaining distance from 69th to Merrifield. Expanding beyond that would mean expanding beyond the city’s existing flood protection systems.
City staff estimate it might take five to 10 years for southerly development to reach 69th and maybe 20 years to reach Merrifield.
The question city leaders will need to answer in the relatively near future, then, is when they’ll pony up for the new infrastructure and where that money should come from.
Developers are generally interested in that type of “edge” development because those properties are considered more marketable than “infill” ones, and because landowners on the edge of town are more willing to redevelop than landowners in denser areas.
Currently, Grand Forks has some areas that already have utility service but no homes built upon them. City staff estimate that, if development continues at its current rate, those spaces will be taken up in about five years.
“And so this is why we’re triggering and we need to start looking at some of these new areas,” Brooks said.