A possible special assessment district would fund streetlights in some of the town’s newer developments
The nights are darker than elsewhere throughout much of Dickinson's Koch Meadow Hills and Country Oaks Estates subdivisions on the northwest side of town.
The nights are darker than elsewhere throughout much of Dickinson’s Koch Meadow Hills and Country Oaks Estates subdivisions on the northwest side of town.
These neighborhoods, developed in some of the more hectic times of the oil boom, lack streetlights -- an aspect the city of Dickinson hopes to rectify in the near future with a special assessment improvement district.
Koch Meadow resident Jenna Waldschmidt said the unlit area she’s lived in for about a year is “pitch black” when the sun goes down.
“This is obviously a new development, so I guess they didn’t really pay attention until darkness came,” she said.
With three kids, Waldschmidt was concerned about the safety of the neighborhood at night, a worry compounded by a lack of stop signs on road intersections.
Citing one prominent example, she said Halloween was “vacant” of the traditional door-to-door pedestrian flow of children and parents.
“People don’t want to trick-or-treat when it’s scary dark,” Waldschmidt said. “We saved on some candy.”
Morgan Krebs, Waldschmidt’s neighbor and resident of Koch Meadow for a little over a year, had a different experience with Halloween that yielded a similar concern for safety.
“There’s kids everywhere, running out in the middle of the street and you can’t see them,” Krebs said, adding “it’s really dark, everywhere around here.”
The location of the neighborhood, just a few blocks from Prairie Rose Elementary School, and the established status of the area compounded her irritation with the dim situation.
“It’s dumb that we live by a school and there’s obviously a lot of kids around here -- it’s a finished development and they don’t have streetlights up yet,” Krebs said.
Both pointed out the presence of streetlights in the developed area of Koch Meadow continuing down Wahl Street across State Avenue -- an area devoid of residents and currently consisting solely of streetlights, paved roads and one house under construction.
Neither woman had heard about the resolution approved by the City Commission at its meeting last Monday that would begin the process of establishing a special assessment district to address the lighting issue.
Assessing the special assessment
City Engineer Craig Kubas said a letter of notice would be sent to homeowners who would be affected by the assessment sometime next week, after which a 30-day protest period would begin.
Kubas said that initial notice letter will contain all the relevant information on the proposed improvement district, including an estimated assessment fee.
Assessments can “vary quite a bit,” he said, and hinge on the square footage of the individually assessed property.
At 26 cents per square foot and an average lot size in the relevant neighborhoods of around 10,000 square feet, Kubas estimated the average assessment at $2,600.
That sum would be paid at an annual rate of 10 percent, plus 6 percent interest.
While the details of the assessment were unknown to both Krebs and Waldschmidt before they received their notice letters, discussions with other residents had provided Waldschmidt with at least some information.
She said the reasoning she’d heard for the lack of lights was a dispute of some kind between the city and the area’s developer, Mike Koch of Bismarck-based Koch Construction, who would have otherwise installed them.
Koch did not return multiple calls for comment.
While Kubas admits the area wasn’t his responsibility at the time of development, he said the lack of lighting is actually the result of a transitional period of responsibility for streetlights.
“Historically, our utility providers had installed streetlights for new development,” he explained.”As everybody got busy ... the utility companies got away from that practice of installing the lights. The developers didn’t have it in their agreements to install the lights.”
In time, the city required the inclusion of streetlights in developer agreements, which resulted in the case of the development down Wahl Street with adequate lighting but no people yet.
However, Kubas said in the space between the drawback of the utility companies, who provided the streetlight service without contractual obligation, and the pickup of the developers, there were neighborhoods that “slipped through the cracks.”
Now, in the time of an oil slowdown, the city is trying to fill in the unlit gaps.
If the special assessment goes through, lights could come to Koch Meadow Hills next summer.
‘Street lights were not on anyone’s mind’
Greg Douthett, a partner of residential construction company True Style Homes, said his company was one of the first builders in Country Oaks and that development then had not included street lighting.
“I can tell you, I lived on Prairie Oak Drive (in the development), and I would have really liked to have street lighting -- it’s kind of a nice thing,” Douthett said with a chuckle. “But I can also tell you that, in the early days when the boom first started, it was pretty wide open. There were not a lot of guidelines in place.”
While Douthett said the city had since done a “phenomenal job” in getting a handle on regulating development and construction, the pace of the oil boom had obscured certain details.
“Streetlights were not on anyone’s mind,” he said. “Everybody was building so fast, and it just wasn’t even an issue.”
Douthett Said none of the buyers he dealt with in the subdivision asked him about street lighting and since, as far as he knew, there was never any indication that such lighting would be installed, he made them no promises.
Waldschmidt admitted neither she nor her husband had asked their real estate agent about the lighting situation.
“We weren’t aware, and it’s not something you look at when buying a house,” she said.
While she saw the lack of lighting as a hazard that should be addressed, she was less than pleased about the prospect of the assessment and said she’d consider protesting it if she had more information.
“We’re paying a lot of money for these houses, and we have to add more to that?” she questioned. “I get that they have to do it, but considering we just bought into it, if I was made aware as we were purchasing that that was something down the line, maybe we would have changed our mind a little bit.”