FARGO – Oppositionn to a new development on the north side of Fargo is not surprising. There is a recent history of northsiders trying to put the brakes on building in their neighborhoods.
The expansion of Rosewood on Broadway a few years ago was met with stout opposition by neighbors, who lamented the loss of single-family homes and said their property values were gong to drop as the senior-care facility grew.
That was followed by opposition to a development on the site of the old Cardinal Muench seminary. This development, still under construction, will be about 60 single-family homes-just what north siders say they need to breathe life into schools and neighborhoods. But neighbors protested, saying more houses would bring unwanted traffic and noise.
The latest kerfuffle involves a proposal by a developer to turn a pasture that sits near the intersection of University Drive and 32nd Ave. North-commonly known as Ponyland-into a collection of apartment buildings and twin homes. The land was zoned agricultural until 2002, when it was changed to allow high-density single-family homes.
That's the rub. Nearby residents wanted the Fargo planning commission to deny a request to change the zoning to allow some 400 apartments. The commission instead approved the change over resident protests. Neighbors say the apartments will bring increased traffic and possibly more crime. They're also concerned that because North Dakota State University students will take most of the apartments, it won't help enrollment at nearby McKinley Elementary School.
The issue moves to the city commission, which will likely take it up at a March 14 meeting.
Given the planning commission approved the change 7-2 and the developer tweaked original plans to make the proposal more palatable, a betting man would believe the city commission will give its approval. When that happens, there will be howls of protest that the city doesn't listen to its residents.
Northsiders are learning a tough lesson: Change is hard.
On one hand, they want growth. On the other hand, they only want certain kinds of growth. Although you could argue that by protesting both single-family developments (Cardinal Muench) and apartments (Ponyland), maybe what they don't want is growth in their particular backyard.
Whatever the case, the wringing of hands over Ponyland obscures what the real issue in that area of Fargo is: What, exactly, is the long-term plan to house the ever-growing number of NDSU students and how does that fit into the overall growth of north Fargo?
We know NDSU, current enrollment about 14,000, is going to grow by several thousand students in the next decade or so. Maybe sooner. It's President Dean Bresciani's stated goal and, even if it wasn't, the university is going to grow organically because of the booming population of the metro area. It's simple mathematics.
Because of growing enrollment, developers see an opportunity to build apartment buildings near campus to cater to students. That's why developers want to put apartments into Ponyland. There's a demand.
We also know dozens of older single-family homes near NDSU have been converted into rentals for students over the years. That trend continues. While it helps the student-housing crunch, it continues to reduce the number of families with school-aged children on the north side.
We also know the NDSU Foundation is planning some sort of student housing east of campus along the 1600 block of University Drive and 12th Street North.
Perhaps the question is: How will the construction of new student housing affect the demand for apartments?
And: If there is enough new student housing to alleviate demand, would the need for apartments at Ponyland disappear?
There hasn't been extensive conversations between the university, the foundation, the city and perhaps even Fargo Public Schools. Like it or not, NDSU is driving development on the north side and what it does has a domino effect on everything else.
Could coordinated planning for housing needs among those entities reduce some of the heartburn over developments like Ponyland? It seems basic.
It seems as though that'd be a good place to start. Whatever the city commission decides March 14, it should set the table for more communication about northside housing.