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Petition aims to keep Grand Forks' Arbor Park as building deal heads to city leaders

Mary Weaver said the fight to save Arbor Park isn't over. Just inside Browning Arts, the store she runs at 23 S. Fourth St. in downtown Grand Forks, there's a petition waiting on the wooden counter as soon as you step in. It's the latest effort f...

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Arbor Park, situated between Sledsters and Norby's Work Perks downtown on South Fourth Street. Jesse Trelstad/ Grand Forks Herald

Mary Weaver said the fight to save Arbor Park isn’t over.

Just inside Browning Arts, the store she runs at 23 S. Fourth St. in downtown Grand Forks, there’s a petition waiting on the wooden counter as soon as you step in. It’s the latest effort from Weaver and company to stave off development at the roughly decade-and-a-half-old pocket park just down the street, and she’s hoping to pitch it to city officials soon.

"I've been kind of the headquarters for it -- people come in here and sign it," Weaver said.

She still makes a passionate argument for why the park should stay.

“(People) think it brings beauty,” she said. “They like to go there with their kids and grandkids. They like to attend events there. They think it provides eye candy -- relief from all of the concrete and the brick.”

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A committee of city leaders offered preliminary approval to a development deal at the site late last month, and the final iteration of that deal is set to come before the City Council Monday. If approved, city staffers said, it would be the final approval the council would give to the project, though final stages of the land sale and other matters would continue to unfold after the fact.  

Dakota Commercial and Development is backing the project. The resulting building, with roughly two dozen condos, room for retail on the first floor -- and potentially some upper-story office space -- would likely cost between $7 million and $8 million, with construction beginning by the summer, said Kevin Ritterman, the company’s president.

Plans for the project show a large, white, angular structure, with space for a walkway dotted with sculpture and greenery running along the south side of the building and connecting Fourth Street to nearby pocket parks.

But Weaver still is holding out hope. A petition she’s organized with fellow park proponents asks the city of Grand Forks to sell the park to the Grand Forks Park District; if the Park District doesn’t want it, the petition suggests selling it to a “public, non-profit entity” named by a few designated leaders of the petition drive. Weaver is one of them.

The plan is reminiscent of a proposal Weaver and fellow park proponent Adam Kemp offered to the city earlier this year, which competed with the proposal accepted in the development plan. Theirs, instead of envisioning a building, asked to preserve the park under the auspices of the Park District.

Weaver said she’s not sure how many signatures the drive has collected thus far, adding it’s not yet clear when they’ll be turned in. She said she believes a petition still might have an impact on the building process even if it comes to the city after Monday.

There’s already been a significant amount of public comment on Arbor Park, City Council President Dana Sande said, and barring an extraordinary large set of signatures, he sees the deal to develop the land winning council approval.

“In my mind, the ship has sailed,” he said. “However, it all depends. If they bring in a petition that has 10,000 signatures on it, that would be something else -- we would have to look at it.”

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But if an overwhelming sum of signatures comes in after an approval of the deal on Monday, Sande said that makes for a complicated situation, one that would be less easily changed by a petition. Sande stressed he’s no attorney and that he’s not clear on the processes it would take to reverse approval of a development deal, but said he sees the sale of the land as a firm deadline.

City Attorney Howard Swanson could not be reached for comment by the Herald by press time.

City Council member Bret Weber pointed out the positive side to the project, too, suggesting arguments to keep Arbor Park -- while maybe compelling on their face -- are outweighed by the benefits of development.

"You either go forward or you go backward,” he said. “Without downtown going forward, Arbor Park and the other fantastic assets that we have downtown are going to be less and less used. “On the other hand, if we engage the most exciting building project of the last 15 years downtown, and bring more people, more business … if we bring more vibrancy downtown, the pocket parks will be even more enjoyable, safer, more accessible. I think we'll end up with more public art downtown."

 

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