FARGO — By the end of 2020, city officials and neighborhoods in the city's core hope to have a plan in place to address the future.

Fargo's core neighborhoods reside within the boundaries of 19th Avenue North and Interstate 94 and the Red River to 25th Street.

In a joint meeting of the city's 11-member Planning Commission and the 12-member Community Development Committee May 15, city planners gathered input from those two groups on what they think should be included in the plan.

Considering all of the controversies over an apartment complex tied to the Newman Center rebuilding project in the midst of the Roosevelt neighborhood, Fargo Neighborhood Coalition President Dawn Morgan agreed in a later interview in her downtown Fargo office that the flap probably sped up the city's decision to begin work on such a plan.

"Six months ago they said it would probably be 3 or 4 years before it got started," said Morgan, who is also on the planning commission.

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However, she and others in the neighborhoods are thankful that work has begun.

Morgan believes a plan will make "the process easier for everyone," including the developers, neighborhoods, city staff and appointed and elected officials.

In a letter from the coalition presented at the May 15 meeting, she said simply that the priorities for the neighborhoods are stability, predictability and sustainability.

She said her group believes that can be accomplished through preservation, appropriate buildings on vacant lots, development of pedestrian and bike pathways in a connected park system and having neighborhoods connected to downtown seen as "the hub" of the core.

Aaron Nelson, the city's long-range planning coordinator, said the issues they see in the core neighborhoods, which were echoed by many members of the planning and community development groups at the meeting, include aging infrastructure, affordable housing, school enrollment, population growth, zoning and code enforcement, livability, blight, redevelopment pressures, maintaining properties and preserving the character of neighborhoods.

Nelson hopes the plan provides a clear understanding of the issues affecting the neighborhoods as well as improved trust and understanding between residents, city officials and developers.

Members of the Fargo Planning Commission and the city's Community Development Committee met with city planners to discuss the start to a Core Neighborhood Plan on Wednesday, May 15, in the Fargo City Hall.   Barry Amundson / The Forum
Members of the Fargo Planning Commission and the city's Community Development Committee met with city planners to discuss the start to a Core Neighborhood Plan on Wednesday, May 15, in the Fargo City Hall. Barry Amundson / The Forum

City Planning Director Nicole Crutchfield said the core neighborhood issues likely go back generations. That's why she suggested hiring a consultant who would give the city "a fresh set of eyes" and expert opinions about issues the aging neighborhoods face.

The consultant, who will be hired by the Fargo City Commission after open-to-the-public interviews in September, expects to kick off the project in November.

Morgan hopes the consultant will have worked on plans from other cities and has been trained in historic preservation efforts, a component she believes is necessary for any core neighborhood plan.

Morgan, as well as other members of the planning commission and community development group, made it clear at the joint meeting that they would like to see a lot of input from residents. City Commissioner Tony Grindberg said he likes this "bottom-up approach" of gathering the voices from the neighborhoods.

City Commissioner John Strand said he wondered if the plan should include more than just the older neighborhoods. Crutchfield said newer neighborhoods further south already operate under a growth plan developed years ago. There is also a downtown master plan in place that addresses issues, so the downtown area won't be included in the core neighborhood plan.

Once the core plan is done, she said the outer edges of the core neighborhoods and the far southern part of the city still won't have a direct plan, but Crutchfield said most planning questions arise in the older neighborhoods.

Planning Commissioner Rocky Schneider agreed that when they are confronted with zoning issues in the neighborhoods "we don't have a lot of guidance."

Strand also wondered if a moratorium on any zoning changes in the core neighborhoods should be in place until the plan is developed.

Morgan agreed. She said the biggest problems are large projects such as apartment complexes popping up in the midst of residential areas.

In the past, several core neighborhood associations were created to deal with a major issue or project being planned, Morgan said.

She said one of the oldest neighborhood groups was founded 45 years ago when the city planned to take out historic street lights along Eighth Street South, to the dismay of residents.

Another group formed when the Horace Mann Elementary School in the northeast part of the city was slated for consolidation with another school, Morgan said. Residents were concerned that without the school, families would leave and the neighborhood would deteriorate.

Currently, the Roosevelt neighborhood is not only dealing with the Newman Center project controversy, but also with nearby expansions, a growing student population and others associated with North Dakota State University, the Sanford hospital and medical facilities as well as a growing downtown.

What has been one of the major problems in many neighborhoods, she said, is that developers have big plans and push quickly for the project before many in the neighborhood are even aware the project is on its way.

"It can be very stressful for everybody," she said.

With this new plan, however, Morgan feels that the stress level will decrease and fights will diminish.

"We're not alarmists," she said. But neighborhoods simply want to provide early input for any proposed project.

Morgan agreed the plan was off to a good start as city planners received input and laid out the process.

That means the Fargo Neighborhood Coalition's desire for stability, predictability and sustainability in the city's oldest neighborhoods may just be possible.

Note: Be sure to read part two of this "Core communities" series about the specific issues facing the Roosevelt Neighborhood. The story will appear in print and online Sunday, May 26.