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Dickinson land sale could help increase affordable housing

An estimated 100 acres could soon be up for sale in southwest Dickinson to develop affordable housing and help the city with increasingly tight staff housing, officials said Tuesday.

"There has been a lot of interest in that acreage from developers," City Administrator Shawn Kessel said.

The city owns approximately 160 acres of land on the southwest side of town. Roughly 60 acres would be reserved for additions to the St. Joseph's Cemetery, a landfill and the Dickinson Fire Department training site.

The extra 100 acres could be sold to developers. Kessel said he would like to present a formal proposal at the next meeting to start bidding the land.

The plan is to put revenue from the land into the city's future fund, lend it to an enterprise fund and use it to build staff housing.

The city has two houses for staff, but Kessel said they may not be enough.

"They have been utilized almost every day since we have acquired them," he said. "We would like to see additional housing for staff."

City staff has looked at several options, including building with private businesses or other public entities. However, there are concerns.

"The problem you have with a private entity owning a building is that you then pay their rates, which tend to be excessive," Kessel said, adding there is no guarantee that rooms would be available.

Owning a building with other public entities could also prove challenging, since each organization has its own exit strategies.

The Dickinson Fire Department has expressed concerns about building housing next to its training site, Fire Chief Bob Sivak said.

"We are there. We are established already," he said. "We do train. We do use live-fire props."

Light, noise and smoke are produced from training, Sivak said.

About 20 additional acres would be needed for buffer space, Sivak said. The city plans to have a tree farm as a buffer, Kessel said, and reserving 20 acres should be adequate.

The hard part would be to figure out what should be saved for the emergency landfill, Kessel said. The city could retain the emergency landfill for long-term use, he said. The covered landfill could also be used for a park.

There is going to be more discussion on the matter, Dickinson Commissioner Carson Steiner said, but he said the land had "great potential" for development.

"The south side hasn't been growing as much as the north," he said. "It gives us another option."

Though Sivak didn't mind if the area was developed, he wanted to make sure the training facility and the residents could co-exist and be "good neighbors."

"All we can do is let them know these are the types of activities that do take place at the training site," he said. "Whatever type of development may end up there, let's make sure we provide an adequate buffer so our site isn't an issue as that area develops."