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Dickinson city officials: City must catch up on infrastructure before growth continues

The underlying infrastructure below West Villard Street is exhumed and replaced as the project to repave the street is underway Wednesday evening in Dickinson. City officials have outlined a $192 million plan to tackle infrastructure issues in Dickinson, some of which will prevent the city from growing further until the issues are dealt with.

With two subdivisions working towards final platting, officials are saying Dickinson needs to catch up with infrastructure before it can grow any further.

At the Dickinson City Planning and Zoning Commission's regular meeting Wednesday morning at City Hall, City Administrator Shawn Kessel said the city must complete $192 million worth of infrastructure projects.

"We are basically at capacity right now in terms of our infrastructure," said City Attorney Matt Kolling. "The $192 million in projects -- the 27 projects that Mr. Kessel talked about -- that is required in order for the city basically to service our current city limits, in order to extend out into some of those areas that have been annexed recently.

"We don't have $192 million right now. We're working with our bond council and some of our other lending authorities to raise some of that capital in order to put these projects in the ground, but until they're put in the ground, most of those areas -- new areas within the city -- are not buildable because we don't have the capacity for it."

Two subdivisions, Buffalo Bend in north Dickinson and Medora Meadows in northwest Dickinson, received a continuance of final platting, per city staff recommendation at Wednesday morning's meeting.

"Over the last year, we've seen some difficulty in approving construction plans once the final plat has already been approved," said Assistant City Engineer Nathan Peck, when Commissioner Jay Elkin questioned the staff recommendation.

"We've had a number of instances where inappropriate right-of-way has been provided or we weren't able to confirm that the dedicated tracks for storm water detention were adequate. It's been a little bit of a struggle in the last year to make sure that we're able to capture everything with the limited resources and the staff review time, and this is an attempt for the engineering department to deal with the current situation that we're in."

Elkin worried that delaying final plat with the short North Dakota construction season could push the developer into next year.

"I don't know why we wouldn't want to move forward with a project such as this," Elkin said of Buffalo Bend, which is a single-family development. "I think it's been something that we've been encouraging all along as a commission."

The city planning and engineering departments want to approve all development plans before approving final plat so homebuyers are not caught off guard when infrastructure plans continue.

"All we're asking for is for the (capital improvement plan) that was presented to you this morning for that to be finalized," Community Development Director Ed Courton said. "For us to get those final figures together for us to come back to the consultants for the majority of those projects -- get a timeline of when we feel that those projects would be built, and then we could include that with the new development agreement."

This would allow the city to give developers a date for water and sewer hookups to their subdivisions.

"We're not putting a stop to the project," Peck said. "The design and engineering of this project is ongoing and we'll continue to work with the developer's engineers with that."

Dickinson is planning several infrastructure projects to be completed before the next biennium, including expanding sewer and water capacity and updating and extending roads, some with the help of the North Dakota Department of Transportation, Kessel said.

"I have numerous examples of property owners that have come in and bought it the second or third time after it's been platted and find out they've got to build a road through their lot or they have to provide this stuff," Courton said. "We're just trying to address the issue. That's the whole process -- that's the reason you go through the platting process."

Once final plat approval has been given by the City Commission, developers can begin selling lots and housing before being allowed to hook up to city services, Peck said.

"The staff is very uncomfortable with continuing allowing people to live in these areas when we're not completely satisfied that it's appropriate," Peck said.

Requiring approval of all construction plans before final plat approval would not keep developers from moving forward, but city services may not be available immediately.

"If you want to develop all the infrastructure and have it waiting there just to turn the valve at the end, we would be very happy with that," Courton said. "That makes perfect sense."

It's better to address these issues before a developer has put money into a subdivision, Kolling said.

A neighborhood that can't connect to the city's sewer and water system wouldn't have many buyers, making the developer's investment useless until the city catches up.

"I'm hoping that within the next month our (capital improvement plan) is finally approved," Courton said. "And several months from now, as part of the normal preliminary plat or final plat procedure, we'll already have that information."

Katherine Grandstrand
I graduated from Bemidji State University in 2007 with a bachelor's degree in mass communcations, from Columbia College Chicago in 2009 with a master's degree in journalism.  
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