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As construction booms, Horace hopes to keep small town character

Horace is seeing about 260 homes being built this year, which is similar to numbers in Fargo. That follows 86 new homes in 2020 and 41 in 2019. City officials expect the construction boom to continue.

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Horace City Administrator Brent Holper and Mayor Kory Peterson have watched the city grow at a rapid pace. David Samson / The Forum

Editor's note: This is the first part of a series on small communities around Fargo, Moorhead and West Fargo going through significant expansions as the metro grows.

HORACE — When Horace Mayor Kory Peterson asked residents in a series of town meetings about five years ago to describe the city's identity, the most common response was "sleepy."

But the bedroom community on the southside of Fargo and West Fargo isn't very sleepy anymore, as rapid growth continues to bring the three cities closer together.

John Maness, a sales executive who moved to Horace in mid-August and has already joined the volunteer fire department, said he wanted to live in a community with a small town feel with lower taxes and less traffic.

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The Lost River development in Horace is seen on Wednesday, Sept. 29, 2021. David Samson / The Forum

Some who have lived in town much longer than Maness don't quite see it that way anymore.

Tim and Marie Hestdalen, who have lived in Horace for 21 years, said that the small-town atmosphere is slipping away as the city expands.

With both coming from small towns, they chose Horace for its size and short distance from their jobs in Fargo.

For most of their 21 years in Horace, the town didn't change very much, but now they're feeling the growing pains of an expanding community. Home values and property taxes are rising, and traffic is getting worse.

Peterson, who also moved to the city in 2000 for its sleepy atmosphere, said the goal of city leadership is to keep "the small-town flair," but growth presents a challenge.

Since 2010, the city's population jumped from 2,430 to 3,178, according to the latest estimate, though based on construction numbers, local officials think that number could jump considerably for 2021. The U.S. Census Bureau hasn't yet released official numbers for towns under 5,000.

City Administrator Brent Holper described growth in Horace as being like a "fire hose."

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"Every day, something changes," he said in an interview at the town's offices, which will soon be undergoing an expansion.

Construction takes off

Horace is seeing about 260 homes being built this year, which is similar to numbers in Fargo. That follows 86 new homes in 2020 and 41 in 2019. City officials expect the construction boom to continue.

With an average of about three people in each of those homes, Holper estimates another 750 people are moving to town just this year, raising the population from the current 3,178 figure to almost 4,000 in just one year.

"I tell residents that if you think this year is crazy, just wait until next year," Peterson said.

With most of the city out of the flood plain, some developers seem to be focusing on the area until the Fargo-Moorhead diversion project is complete, Holper said. Once the diversion is built, new construction will likely slow in Horace and pick back up in southeast Fargo, he added.

Housing developments are under construction and expanding in all directions within city limits, which run from 52nd Avenue on the border with West Fargo and Fargo to the south near County Road 16. Construction is expanding east and west as well, west of Interstate 29 and across the Sheyenne River.

New schools

The mayor said the two new schools on the northside of town, Heritage Middle School and Horace High School, are driving much of the development.

The schools are designed to accommodate 2,700 students, but so far Heritage is home to 465 students in sixth grade through eighth grade. Freshmen and sophomores, who number 225, are attending classes at Heritage until the high school is finished.

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Both schools are part of the West Fargo School District. Spokeswoman Heather Leas said there is no firm date for the Horace High School opening, but the most recent estimate was having staff begin to move in during late October.

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Construction continues on the new Horace High School on Wednesday, Sept. 29, 2021. David Samson / The Forum

Current juniors and seniors in the Horace area are staying in West Fargo high schools as not to move them away from their classmates. But next year, the current sophomores will become juniors and remain in the Horace building. The following year all grades will attend the school.

Besides the two new school buildings, Horace Elementary School is also undergoing a $6.8 million remodeling that will add 10 new classrooms to the northside, allowing the school to offer four sections in each grade instead of two. The elementary school will then accommodate up to 550 students.

Horace has been a part of the West Fargo school district since 1967. The town's old school, part of which is the city's senior citizen center, continued to operate and stayed open until 1983 when it closed and the current elementary school opened that fall.

The Hestdalens, despite some of their misgivings about the growing town, said they think the schools are a positive development, as they allow students to be closer to their homes.

Their children attended Horace Elementary School, but they then traveled to West Fargo for middle and high school.

Peterson said the schools are vital to the city's goal of building a community that keeps the "small-town ambiance," as activities like band concerts and sporting events could bring old and new residents together.

Horace is also trying to keep its small-town feel by restarting the Bean Days Festival, hosting holiday events for families, and decorating light poles with American flags from Labor Day to Veterans Day.

Looking ahead

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New home construction continues at a rapid pace in Horace. David Samson / The Forum
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As the city prepares for its 150th anniversary in 2023, Peterson and Holper are excited about the future.

Besides the schools and housing, the new Visto Industrial Park on the south edge of town brings the hopes of more jobs in town. The development currently has about 10 small businesses and could potentially draw small-scale manufacturing or technology companies.

Commercial businesses are likely next, including the possibility of a grocery store, said Peterson, adding that a developer told him that "rooftops" or homes are a key to those types of developments happening.

The Horace City Commission has also been approving ordinances spelling out regulations for the new development, such as requiring developers to plant trees and include other design elements to make neighborhoods more attractive.

City parks are also being developed and the Horace Park District, with its elected leaders, are working on numerous improvements.

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