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Baumgarten: ‘Fool me twice’ attitude bad for city planning

When I first came to The Dickinson Press as a reporter, one of the beats I covered was the Dickinson Planning and Zoning Commission. On the third Wednesday of each month, I would wake up at 6:30 a.m., grab a cup or two of really strong coffee, an...

When I first came to The Dickinson Press as a reporter, one of the beats I covered was the Dickinson Planning and Zoning Commission. On the third Wednesday of each month, I would wake up at 6:30 a.m., grab a cup or two of really strong coffee, and head to City Hall, hoping to make it just in time for the 7:10 a.m. meeting. I do remember one particular meeting in March 2012, one of the longest meetings I’ve ever attended. With 22 items on the agenda - some of them very contentious and time-consuming - it was 3 p.m. before I walked out of the meeting so I could finish my story.
You read that right. Not counting the lunch break, that meeting lasted about 7 hours. I remember that day not only because of the meeting, but also because I “volunteered” - meaning I was the only person in the office at the end of the day - to cover a fire later that evening that closed Interstate 94 east of Dickinson. But that’s for another day. Thinking back to those huge meetings, I cringe at the thought of trying to keep all those plats, rezoning petitions and Planned Unit Development orders straight. Despite what residents say, I doubt there are many that could handle that job. I certainly couldn’t. One story this week caught my attention. Commissioners are questioning whether they should slow down approving new plats, especially after several in the city have sat empty for months. In this month’s meeting, a tie forced the commission to pass a rezoning petition for Barons Vista on to the City Commission without recommendation. Their doubts are not unfounded, and they are not new either. The commission had concerns even three years ago, when everyone was saying the boom was going to bring in thousands of people. Commissioners sometimes questioned whether they were overbuilding, adding they were approving hundreds, sometimes thousands, of rooms to be built at each meeting. But back then, some developers left land sit, and that was infuriating for a city trying to stay ahead of ahead of the curve. “Here we are, trying to do zoning and planning, and nothing is done there, and yet we have a need for housing,” Commissioner Gene Jackson said in a June meeting. “We do all the work, and they don’t build anything.” Now they are asking developers the same questions. Only now, thanks to a drop in oil prices, there is a very real fear that too much housing will be built. And the commission, understandably, doesn’t want to be fooled more than once. There are other issues with Barons Vista, including access points, and I’m sure there are other details I don’t fully understand. But the problem comes with the attitude of the commission: Don’t approve plats until the ones we have are in development. That, to me is not a good enough reason to turn someone down. The commission can’t turn down a solid plan - that doesn’t mean I believe Barons’ plans are perfect. That way of thinking not only turns down opportunity, it also sends signals to other developers that want to come to the area. It takes months of planning, researching and designing before a company can present its vision. Why waste that time if they know the commission is going to say no? It’s hard to trust someone, especially when you put so much work into something, only to be constantly let down so many times. I’ve seen a city spend three years trying to make a residential development work. Hazen residents were pitted against each other when developers tried to build Annabelle Homes. Despite the developer constantly saying it was serious about the project and that it could change the city, it didn’t matter. The company left a two-minute voicemail with the mayor, stating it would not be able to move forward and “it is just best for us to respectfully step away,” and essentially hung up on the city. I have no doubt the commission knows what it is doing. The commissioners are very knowledgeable on the subject. They dedicate hours to studying each request. It’s a thankless job, and they likely get more complaints than compliments. In the end, all they want to do is make sure Dickinson grows in an orderly, healthy way. With that said, the commission cannot block developers because the city was burned in the past with broken promises. It was not the only reason to decline Barons’ request, and it can never be the only reason for any development. All that does is hinder progress. I don’t believe that is the intention of the commissioners. I know they will continue to use reason to make the best decision they can. But if they use the “fool-me-twice” attitude, it will send a very strong message: Stay away until the ones that fooled us before had a chance either build or flip the land. Baumgarten is the news editor of The Dickinson Press. Email her at abaumgarten@thedickinsonpress.com. Call her at 701-456-1210.Like her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/april.baumgarten. Follow her at twitter.com/aprilbaumsaway.When I first came to The Dickinson Press as a reporter, one of the beats I covered was the Dickinson Planning and Zoning Commission. On the third Wednesday of each month, I would wake up at 6:30 a.m., grab a cup or two of really strong coffee, and head to City Hall, hoping to make it just in time for the 7:10 a.m. meeting.I do remember one particular meeting in March 2012, one of the longest meetings I’ve ever attended. With 22 items on the agenda - some of them very contentious and time-consuming - it was 3 p.m. before I walked out of the meeting so I could finish my story.
You read that right. Not counting the lunch break, that meeting lasted about 7 hours. I remember that day not only because of the meeting, but also because I “volunteered” - meaning I was the only person in the office at the end of the day - to cover a fire later that evening that closed Interstate 94 east of Dickinson. But that’s for another day.Thinking back to those huge meetings, I cringe at the thought of trying to keep all those plats, rezoning petitions and Planned Unit Development orders straight. Despite what residents say, I doubt there are many that could handle that job. I certainly couldn’t.One story this week caught my attention. Commissioners are questioning whether they should slow down approving new plats, especially after several in the city have sat empty for months. In this month’s meeting, a tie forced the commission to pass a rezoning petition for Barons Vista on to the City Commission without recommendation.Their doubts are not unfounded, and they are not new either. The commission had concerns even three years ago, when everyone was saying the boom was going to bring in thousands of people. Commissioners sometimes questioned whether they were overbuilding, adding they were approving hundreds, sometimes thousands, of rooms to be built at each meeting.But back then, some developers left land sit, and that was infuriating for a city trying to stay ahead of ahead of the curve.“Here we are, trying to do zoning and planning, and nothing is done there, and yet we have a need for housing,” Commissioner Gene Jackson said in a June meeting. “We do all the work, and they don’t build anything.”Now they are asking developers the same questions. Only now, thanks to a drop in oil prices, there is a very real fear that too much housing will be built. And the commission, understandably, doesn’t want to be fooled more than once.There are other issues with Barons Vista, including access points, and I’m sure there are other details I don’t fully understand. But the problem comes with the attitude of the commission: Don’t approve plats until the ones we have are in development. That, to me is not a good enough reason to turn someone down. The commission can’t turn down a solid plan - that doesn’t mean I believe Barons’ plans are perfect. That way of thinking not only turns down opportunity, it also sends signals to other developers that want to come to the area. It takes months of planning, researching and designing before a company can present its vision. Why waste that time if they know the commission is going to say no?It’s hard to trust someone, especially when you put so much work into something, only to be constantly let down so many times. I’ve seen a city spend three years trying to make a residential development work. Hazen residents were pitted against each other when developers tried to build Annabelle Homes. Despite the developer constantly saying it was serious about the project and that it could change the city, it didn’t matter. The company left a two-minute voicemail with the mayor, stating it would not be able to move forward and “it is just best for us to respectfully step away,” and essentially hung up on the city.I have no doubt the commission knows what it is doing. The commissioners are very knowledgeable on the subject. They dedicate hours to studying each request. It’s a thankless job, and they likely get more complaints than compliments. In the end, all they want to do is make sure Dickinson grows in an orderly, healthy way.With that said, the commission cannot block developers because the city was burned in the past with broken promises. It was not the only reason to decline Barons’ request, and it can never be the only reason for any development. All that does is hinder progress.I don’t believe that is the intention of the commissioners. I know they will continue to use reason to make the best decision they can. But if they use the “fool-me-twice” attitude, it will send a very strong message: Stay away until the ones that fooled us before had a chance either build or flip the land.Baumgarten is the news editor of The Dickinson Press. Email her at abaumgarten@thedickinsonpress.com. Call her at 701-456-1210.Like her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/april.baumgarten. Follow her at twitter.com/aprilbaumsaway.

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