Mountains of snow at 'neglected' south Fargo apartment created crisis situation, city finds

“It was an emergency situation for us,” Fargo’s Inspections Director Shawn Ouradnik said. “(The Arbors) was neglected quite the management company that was off site.”

Trash sits on the ground Tuesday, April 11, 2023, next to dumpsters behind The Arbors at McCormick Park, an apartment complex in south Fargo.
Michael Vosburg/The Forum

FARGO —After residents of a south Fargo apartment complex in April voiced their frustrations over heaps of trash piling up outside the building, the city of Fargo found that excessive snow accumulation was the root cause of the garbage.

Fargo’s Inspections Director Shawn Ouradnik said snow at The Arbors at McCormick Park, 618 23rd St. S., prevented residents from moving around safely and was blocking fire doors and other emergency exits.

In certain spots the snow towered above the railings on the steps leading into the building, he noted.

With mountains of snow and ice obstructing their path, many residents were unable to get to their garbage cans. The owner of the apartment's dumpsters Ken's Sanitation was also unable to access the trash because of the snow, creating an excessive buildup of garbage.

The walk between an apartment building and the parking lot filled with snow on Tuesday, April 11, 2023, behind The Arbors at McCormick Park, Fargo.
Michael Vosburg/The Forum

“It was an emergency situation for us,” Ouradnik said, noting in one instance this winter when ambulance crews struggled to get to an Arbors resident who was in need of medical services.


The incident was right before the city performed an emergency snow removal for which Fargo billed the property owners $12,000. The removal took longer than expected to complete because of all the trash, which included couches and mattresses buried in layers upon layers of snow and ice, Ouradnik said.

“(The Arbors) was neglected quite heavily, not by the staff that was on site, but by the management company that was off site," Ouradnik said.

The property is currently being managed by Arnold Grounds, a property management company based in Texas who began overseeing the property towards the end of 2021. They were unable to be reached for comment on Friday afternoon.

The Arbors at McCormick Park on 23rd Street South Fargo, Wednesday, Nov. 16, 2022.jpg
The Arbors at McCormick Park apartment complex on Wednesday, Nov. 16, 2022, in south Fargo.
C.S. Hagen/The Forum

Arnold Grounds employs three staffers on-site to take care of the 186-unit complex, Ouradnik said. Management could benefit from more team members to help them, he added, a sentiment echoed by tenants to The Forum.

Staff on site wanted to address the issue, Ouradnik said, but weren’t being given the resources required to do so from their employer. “The people who were on site did everything they could,” he said. “They just didn’t have the resources.”

The company discontinued their snow removal services, Ouradnik added, and gave staff a snowblower that kept breaking. Fargo experienced a heavy snowfall last winter, leaving staff unable to keep up.

“The on-site management team did a wonderful job,” he said. “As soon as they could actually make an impact they made an impact and we’re appreciative of that.”

'It shouldn’t have happened, full stop'

Dangerous snow and trash accumulation doesn’t occur to this scale in Fargo, Ouradnik said, even in such large apartment complexes.


“This was one of the worst ones we’d seen,” he said.

Resident Mason Estevez cleans up trash Tuesday, April 11, 2023, around dumpsters behind The Arbors at McCormick Park, an apartment complex in south Fargo.
Michael Vosburg/The Forum

His inspection team didn’t realize the extent of the garbage problem until after the snow was cleared away. Once the city cleared it, Arbors staff began organizing clean-up crews to address the mess.

Trash piles that bad are a safety concern, Ouradnik said, and can lead to rodents, snakes, resident mobility issues and cause sanitation problems. If it hadn’t been addressed, the city would have placed a junk abatement on the property and fined the ownership.

“It shouldn’t have happened, full stop,” said Sarah Bagley, executive director at Chisom Housing Group, a Washington, DC-based nonprofit that co-owns the Arbors in Fargo and hired Arnold Grounds to manage the property. “We acknowledge that there could have been more diligence in ensuring that this buildup (of snow and trash) wasn’t accumulating,” she added.

The Arbors is owned, in part, by Chisom Housing Group, which co-owns the venture under an entity called FARGO LIHTC LP LLC (LLC) with “tax credit investor” like Integra Property Group out of Seattle. The Forum was unable to ascertain the rest of the property’s owners.

The Forum became aware of the situation in early April, the same week that Arbors staff had kicked off a cleanup effort by bringing in additional dumpsters and offering gift cards to residents who worked to shift the garbage with snow shovels.

While she lives out of state, Bagley visited the property in February and “did not observe anything like what these photos show.” She noted that her visit was in the midst of a particularly brutal cold snap, so she wasn’t outside much.

Residents say that the trash and snow began to get out of control around the beginning of January, persisting all winter.


Trash is seen at The Arbors apartment complex in south Fargo on Wednesday, April 12, 2023.
Melissa Van Der Stad / The Forum

Ownership takes this very seriously, Bagley said, “We’re taking steps to ensure it doesn’t happen again.”

The company is looking to hire another staff member to help keep the grounds clean, she said, and ownership is going to check in more often with Arnold Grounds.

'It was a battle'

During another major cleanup effort that occurred on Friday, May 5, a representative from Arnold Grounds visited the property, according to Ouradnik, to help clean up and to see the true state of the housing complex.

However, when problems began to arise in the winter, it took the city months to be able to get in contact with the Texas-based management company, he said.

After months of guesswork, sending letters and calls throughout the county and digging through permits to track down names and numbers, the city eventually was able to speak with a representative from Arnold Grounds after having the city’s attorney reach out to them.

“It was a battle,” Ouradnik said. Most other management companies for large apartment complexes in Fargo are very responsive, he noted.

“I don't think they fully understand the property,” he said. “With owners that are out of state… they don’t actually understand the challenges that we have, especially with snow.”

Absentee owners and managers are an issue the department has come across before, but not normally with large apartment complexes; it's typically single-family homes.


“It was very difficult to try and find the owners,” said Ouradnik, adding the department ultimately never had any conversations with ownership.

Arbors history

The Arbors hasn’t had a situation like this in the past, Ouradnik said, even under previous ownership.

Bagley said that their LLC purchased the Arbors in 2018. At the time, the facility was in need of “significant” renovations, she said, and required new investors to keep it running.

The renovations were completed over the next 18 months, Bagley said, and today the housing complex continues to provide 186 units to tenants, many of whom qualify for government subsidized renting assistance based on income.

Management staff shared this photo with The Forum on Wednesday, April 12, 2023, to show that garbage had been cleared from the dumpster area at The Arbors, an apartment complex in south Fargo.
Submitted photo

Formerly the Arbors was known as Community Homes. Built in 1970, the property was at risk of closing down to issues with financing and poor management, current co-owner Integra Property Group told the Forum in 2019 . The building’s former owner, a nonprofit called Community Homes Inc., dissolved after the sale.

“It was highly at risk, both financially and in terms of the condition,” Bagley said. “There was a real potential for that committed affordable housing to not remain.”

On-site staff, employed by Arnold Grounds, are committed to the property and to the residents, Bagley said, adding that the staff has formed strong bonds with their fellow coworkers and with residents.

“They are as determined to address this as we would want them to be, and committed to addressing this and ensuring that it doesn’t happen again,” Bagley said.


Read more about the situation at The Arbors.

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