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Barons Vista lays out plans for Dickinson: Singapore company’s layout starts to take shape

The vision for the Barons Vista commercial and residential plan is slowly coming together, but details over what the so-called lifestyle development will look like and what it will mean for the Dickinson community aren’t so clear.

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A team of developers presented their preliminary planned unit development ideas to the Dickinson Planning and Zoning Commission on Wednesday in an effort to gain feedback before returning with a formal rezoning request in the coming months.

It was the first time developers and Dickinson-based representatives for the Singapore-based Barons Group of Companies appeared before the commission since an amendment to the city’s comprehensive plan was approved in May.

Boundary Engineering President Shawn Soehren told commissioners he and other developers have been making their rounds, speaking to the parks department, the school district and other city staff to try to “touch all the bases” as they finalize plans. The 282-acre mixed-use development would include a hotel, shopping center and approximately 655 residential lots, many of them on smaller lots than designated under city code and targeted at $180,000 to $240,000 for starting home prices.

The development, which would share a boundary with the future Dickinson Hills Shopping Center to the east, would take advantage of a butte on the northern edge of the parcel, which Soehren said could potentially be incorporated into the plans as the site of an amphitheater or the future Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library. Barons Vista is considered one of the top three sites by the group planning the library.

Even as conceptual designs for the development come together, some commission members expressed concerns with the logistics of the property, including issues over density — “the biggest issue,” according to Community Development Director Ed Courton — access points and street widths and density. No formal decisions were made at the meeting. Developers said they expect to bring a request to the commission in the next month or two.

“All the discussion about hotels, libraries, schools, whatever it may be, that’s not what we’re going to approve,” Commissioner Gene Jackson said. “If we approve it, we’re going to be approving land use, and layout and the details that goes with all that.

“But it’s all conjecture right now,” he said.

Jackson said that because of the need for affordable housing in Dickinson, he would try to be open-minded about smaller lots and higher density in the development, but similar proposals have been discouraged and denied in the past.

“It doesn’t mean we can’t change our mind,” Jackson said. “I wouldn’t hesitate to change our mind if it’s good for the city. But I also don’t want to do something that’s going to be there forever just to try to solve this bubble.”

Courton said any proposed relaxations on the city code, including plans for smaller lots, would have to be explicitly outlined before approval.

“There are a lot of issues that are still unresolved, a lot of question marks,” Courton said. “Anything that’s going to be contrary to our existing code need to spelled out, illustrated, in essence … a handbook that would show everything.”

Barons Vista is included in the region being studied as part of the West Dickinson Area Plan. Jackson said he would like to see the new development come along simultaneously with the land use survey, which should wrap up by December and help determine the future of the area west of the city. The plan could also ease some of the problems around a second access point to the development, which Courton said is necessary before the project can move forward.

With the commission’s input, the developers will now have the chance to make adjustments to their plan before presenting it for PUD approval.

“There have been at least 15 iterations of this plan,” said Robert Andrew, president of the M.A.C. Corp.

Andrew previously worked with Barons founder Danny Lim on the Barons Lodge in Killdeer, which opened in July.

He told commissioners their points were well-taken and developers will consider changes to access points and street width. He said he didn’t see potential traffic navigating through residential areas as impediments to making properties in Barons Vista as marketable as possible.

“The lifestyle community kind of takes on a different persona, I guess,” Andrew said. “And that’s what we’re trying to develop here. It’s unlike anything you have currently in the community.”

Faulx is a reporter with The Press. Contact her at 456-1207 or tweet her at NadyaFaulx