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Pocket parks, Simonson apartments headline big GF council night

Monday's Grand Forks City Council meeting was a big night--and at times, a contentious one--for development in downtown and the Near North Neighborhood.

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A pocket park between Sledsters and Norby's Work Perks downtown on fourth street South. Jesse Trelstad/ Grand Forks Herald

Monday's Grand Forks City Council meeting was a big night-and at times, a contentious one-for development in downtown and the Near North Neighborhood.

Grand Forks leaders touched on both a new apartment complex and other properties set to become affordable housing, but one of the biggest events of the evening was the city's decision to seek out proposals for what to do with a pocket park at 15 S. Fourth St.

Under the city's plan, approved in a unanimous vote Monday, developers will come back with ideas for how to develop the property this summer, and potentially with plans for neighboring pocket parks at 316 Kittson Ave. and 24 S. Third St. Each of those plots were acquired by the city following the devastation of the 1997 Flood and slowly became the parks they are today.

The park at 15 S. Fourth St has since become beloved by a number of residents.

"The park has twined itself into our very hearts," said Mary Weaver, owner of Browning Arts, 23 S. Fourth St., outlining her concern that development might gentrify the area. She also questioned why the city, amidst the push for more downtown vibrancy, would consider developing on top of a park, which is home to various pieces of public art.


City officials have previously said that, in the case of development, the art in the park will be preserved.

Council member Jeannie Mock acknowledged the emotional tie many have to the park but also balanced the matter against what kind of proposals the city might receive.

"Maybe it's not well-known that the city owns this land because they bought it after the flood," she said. "I think that's something where we have to try the (proposals) and see what creativity could be out there." She added that there's room for open-air green space on the ground floor in the proposal, or a green roof.

Council member Bret Weber noted his sympathy for residents' attachment to the park. Much like Mock, though, and despite his general support for downtown development, he stressed that Monday's vote wasn't the final word on the matter.

"We could receive 100 proposals, and if we don't like the 100 proposals, we can get rid of all of them and move forward with doing nothing," he said.

Apartment project

The council also gave final approval by unanimous consent for plans to replace the current Simonson Lumber and Hardware property at 820 N. Third Street with a roughly 70-unit apartment complex.

The result of months of negotiations between neighborhood residents and developers, the final vision for the land includes first floor walk-ups facing the street as well as trees populating a nearly 40-foot gap between the building and the street.


Craig Tweten, president of Community Contractors, said he hopes to begin demolition work at the property by July and see residents moving in near the end of the summer of 2017.

During the discussion, council member Terry Bjerke noted that, although he would vote for it, he said was greatly opposed to the pressure he believes the city places on developers to influence a building's construction. He wondered aloud how city officials would like it if they weren't allowed to decide how to manage the appearance of their own homes.

"I guess there's not any property rights in this town," he said. "I can't believe what I hear sometimes."

Weber was quick to retort. Though he noted the city might be well-served by creating building guidelines for neighborhoods based on residents' wishes-potentially heading off the kinds of long negotiations that cropped up at the Simonson property-he gave Bjerke's criticism short shrift.

"I don't want my neighbors deciding what color I can paint my front porch, and that's not what this would be about," he said. "If my neighbor's going to build a fence, I'd like my neighbor to come talk about what works best for both of us."

Other business

The council also voted unanimously to rezone and annex land to make way for a straw pulp plant on the city's north end, located in the industrial district north of Gateway Drive at 20th Avenue North and North 36th Street.

The facility, which is expected to create 30 to 40 local jobs, will produce about 35,000 tons of straw pulp each year, which will be use to make products such as paper, pizza boxes and other items. The facility will be operated by North American Green Pulp.


The council also unanimously approved two separate items for the city's nascent social detox center, including a five-year lease from the Jobs Development Authority for the land as well as a joint funding funding plan, with partners including Altru, Grand Forks county and state and federal funding, for the next several years

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