Fargo developer Roers accused of lying as city commissioners deride him for not building townhomes by NDSU
"Your credibility here is zero. Got it?" Commissioner Dave Piepkorn said in impassioned speech. The commission voted to have the city attorney meet with Roers' legal team before moving ahead on the issue.
FARGO — A local developer was harshly criticized by several Fargo City Commission members who say he broke agreements with the city and the Roosevelt neighborhood by failing to build a promised buffer of townhomes as part of a full-block development next to North Dakota State University.
City Commissioner Dave Piepkorn was the most strident voice on the commission during the Monday, May 2 meeting, repeatedly calling Roers company president Jim Roers a liar who never intended to build the townhomes as part of the project that includes St. Paul’s Newman Center, faith-based housing, and The View on University Apartments at 1113 N. University Drive.
Roers asked for more time to build the townhomes on the southeast corner of the block, saying congestion in the area and skyrocketing materials costs each played a part in delaying construction of the townhomes.
Roers asked for a prorated disbursement of tax increment financing funds and more time to build the townhomes, with a “drop dead” finish time built into the revised agreement.
The project was supposed to be completed by the end of December 2021, according to a tax increment financing agreement with the city.
“We do still plan on honoring the commitments we made to the Roosevelt district. We would just like to have more time” to let materials prices to dip before building the townhomes, Roers said.
Roers said at one point, materials costs were 600% of their pre-COVID levels, and have only recently started to dip.
That’s when Piepkorn, who noted that the city had not received any notice of problems with the project, cut loose with an impassioned speech.
“To me, this is laughable,” Piepkorn said. “Did you notice all of the apartments, where money is coming in? They are completed” and fully rented out.
“What percentage of the townhomes, how much is completed?” Piepkorn asked.
Roers reiterated that traffic congestion around the work site played a part in the delays.
“Or else maybe it’s because they weren’t going to be developed in the first place. I think he has no credibility,” Piepkorn said, urging the commission to take no action and weigh its options.
He also called for Roers to meet with the Roosevelt Neighborhood Association “so he can explain himself to this group.”
“I think he’s lied to all of us. He lied to the Roosevelt Neighborhood Association,” Piepkorn said. “And it’s common. That’s what big developers think they can get away with. And this time it’s not going to happen. To me, you have no credibility.
“To me, one of the options I’d like us to look at is, can we tear down this project and make him build new houses?” Piepkorn said. “To me, this was all planned a long time ago. He was never going to abide by this.”
And now Roers says the costs are higher, Piepkorn said.
“Well gee, maybe you should have built it when you said you should have built it,” Piepkorn said. “I wouldn’t believe it if this guy said the sky is blue and the grass is green.”
Piepkorn then inferred that if Roers’ daughter, mayoral candidate Shannon Roers Jones, were elected mayor, and the issue had come up during her term, it would have been buried.
“And the scary thing is, his daughter is running for mayor," he said. "Imagine if two months from now, we had a new mayor. Do you think we would have heard about any of this? I think it would have all gone away.
“Very disappointed. To me, you have no credibility. I think the future of your business is at stake. So I hope you’re taking this very seriously. Because your credibility here is zero. Got it?”
Other commissioners said they were also deeply unhappy and dissatisfied with Roers’ failure to bring the project to completion.
Commissioner John Strand said the neighborhood saw a block of houses ripped down, without the construction of the townhomes that were to be a buffer between nearby single-family homes and the multi-story student apartments.
“We really worked hard on this topic. We had immense mediation and negotiation … or you wouldn’t have had a project, period,” Strand said. “There’s no doubt about it, this project tested our relationship with our neighborhoods.”
Strand reminded Roers that he had promised seven townhomes and perhaps four more on the site.
“You wouldn’t have this project if we hadn’t all sat down and rolled up our sleeves and negotiated,” Strand said.
Strand said the issue should have been brought forward much sooner if the project was in jeopardy, and that the neighborhood “paid a price that’s incalculable.”
Roers said there was no intention to never complete the project.
He added in a pointed reply to Piepkorn’s accusation that he didn’t know his daughter had planned a run for mayor.
“The accusations that were made are totally unfounded,” Roers said. “We do intend to build those townhomes.”
Commissioner Arlette Preston said Roers broke a trust.
“It’s all based on trust. And I’m sorry, but in this case, the trust has been broken,” she told Roers, adding that he should have planned for traffic congestion in the busy NDSU area.
Breaking that trust makes it harder to defend the property tax breaks that the city gives to developers to complete projects, she said.
“He lied to all the commissioners,” Piepkorn said. “We need to weigh all of our actions. … We need to come down on a bad actor like this.”
Jim Laschkewitsch, president of the Roosevelt Neighborhood Association, said a whole block of homes was demolished.
“The core issue was to try and protect the character of the neighborhood,” Laschkewitsch said, adding that the townhomes were there to be a buffer on the east side of the project.
Laschkewitsch said the neighborhood was forced into negotiations, but thought at the end of talks they had a settlement they could work with.
“Where do we go from here? What we have is unacceptable,” Laschkewitsch said. “We’re left with a fairly large block-type building to house a lot of college students.”
Laschkewitsch said he wants the city to be part of any future discussions.
“If it involves bartering or trade, I want the city there,” Laschkewitsch said. “I don’t feel that what happened last time was fair to us.”
Commissioner Tony Gehrig said he’s never been a fan of giving builders tax incentives, and he predicted that the issue will end up in a lawsuit, particularly if the tax increment to be made to Roers is cut or withheld.
Gehrig made a motion to have the city attorney meet with the attorneys for the Roers development company to find out their position and what they are looking for going forward. Once that is known, he said that information needs to go to city staff and the commission.
Commissioners approved the move on a 4-1 vote. Preston was the only dissenting vote.
“I want this to be a legal process,” Gehrig said.