FARGO — Fixing up single-family homes, apartments and rental residences has emerged as the top issue as the city continues to study what to do to preserve or strengthen Fargo's oldest core neighborhoods.
The condition of houses and rental units rose to the top based on input from 80 neighborhood volunteers, an initial online survey done in April and in-depth data analysis.
About 1,500 properties — or one in six — in the neighborhoods closest to downtown are considered to be "slipping."
A team, including those from the Virginia-based consulting firm czb that is leading the project, worked on a visual survey of the 14,000 homes occupied by 34,000 residents in the nine core neighborhoods which are mostly named for the schools that serve as neighborhood anchors.
Those neighborhoods from north to south are Washington, Roosevelt/NDSU, Horace Mann, Madison/Unicorn Park, Jefferson/Carl Ben, Hawthorne, South High, Lewis & Clark and Clara Barton.
"Slipping homes" are those where "deferred maintenance is plainly visible and the property appears to be on a downward trajectory."
This No. 1 concern about the condition of some homes was in the "key issues and trends" section of the four-part survey or preliminary plan that is being offered to city residents for input through a "virtual open house."
In the online survey, offered throughout September, residents can add their perspectives to the Fargo Core Neighborhoods Plan.
The survey also looks at the positive aspects or assets in the neighborhoods and potential strategies for how to preserve and strengthen them.
In identifying problems, the most common answer received was that homes in disrepair are the "priority." In many instances, they were "small or outdated homes that are difficult to market and costly to repair."
These are the homes less than 1,250 square feet which dominate most blocks in the core neighborhoods. It was found 23% of those two-bedroom, one-bathroom homes weren't owner-occupied. The average year of construction for the homes was 1937, and their average assessed value was $132,175.
Three-bedroom, two-bathroom homes in the neighborhoods were mostly owner-occupied at 86%. Those homes had an average construction year of 1948 with an average assessed value of $165,795.
Next to homes going into disrepair, the second biggest concern is "blighted rental properties."
Of the 286 apartment buildings in the core neighborhoods, 20% are "slipping,", according to the survey.
The study said for apartments in declining condition, Fargo's median gross rent of about $800 is "unlikely to motivate substantial investments without intervention of some kind."
It was also noted that 16% of single-family homes in the neighborhoods were absentee-owned or rental units and in noticeably worse condition than owner-occupied residences.
Those rental units were mostly concentrated around North Dakota State University. However, it was noted single-family home rentals are on the rise in many other parts of the core neighborhoods, too.
The third most significant issue was concern about traffic, streets and the speeding and noisy conditions residents say they see and hear. Traffic counts from the state showed several corridors with at least 10,000 and up to 20,000 vehicles per day.
Observations found modern traffic-calming techniques were "generally absent."
Residents said the traffic concerns affected the walk-ability and bike-ability in the neighborhoods, as well as the marketability of homes along major roadways.
The fourth highest issue raised was multi-family housing sprouting up in unpredictable locations, especially in the Roosevelt/NDSU neighborhood. Residents also raised concerns that the design of new homes and rental infill projects were out of step with the established neighborhood character.
Other concerns raised by residents were the long-term status of schools, crime, housing costs and taxes.
In looking at strengths or assets of the neighborhoods and how to protect and build upon them, the input so far has labeled those as the excellent location of the neighborhoods to amenities, neighborhood character, trees and a top-notch tree canopy, schools, parks, walk-ability, neighborliness and housing affordability.
As for "location, location, location," as it's known in the real estate world, the plan noted the neighborhoods are close to downtown, NDSU, parks, the airport, health care facilities and the interstates.
The consultants said, "Fargo's exceptionally well-preserved elms give the core an urban landscape that is almost unmatched in North America."
Other positives were that schools are within walking distance for many families, numerous parks and playgrounds and, for some, the closeness to the Red River corridor.
The final part of the survey lays out potential strategies and tools to save and strengthen the city's original neighborhoods.
The main proposals are more building code enforcement and offering more financial and management support, possibly building upon existing programs to upgrade or update homes. That is meant to address the No. 1 concern of those approximate 1,500 housing units that are deteriorating.
It was also suggested that "more pressure could be put on negligent and obstinate property owners to fix up homes while providing more support to those owners who might be financially or physically unable to rectify code violations."
Another part of the toolkit could be developing the capacity to acquire and demolish the most distressed absentee-owned properties or renovate the more salvageable properties for qualified buyers.
As for apartment buildings in decline, the plan suggests intervening or partnering with owners to assist with renovations. For new multi-family units, the plan urges establishing types of developments that would be allowed and ways they would fit in.
Another part of the toolkit could be retrofitting major streets to make them safer and more appealing.
The consultants suggested using the newly revamped Main Avenue in downtown Fargo as an example of how it could be done.
Another strategy calls for higher levels of investment in parks, playgrounds and trails within the core.
The preliminary plan also calls for providing support to neighbors who want to help with improvements. This could include supporting block parties, beautification efforts, guidance from City Hall and connecting neighborhood leaders to learn from each other.
Residents taking the survey can rate options they prefer the most as well as offer comments.
City Planning Coordinator Aaron Nelson said the consulting firm that has been helping the city develop the plan will take the input from the public and update it.
The plan, after another review from city officials and volunteers, will wrap up by December and be presented to the City Commission for possible adoption.
Nelson said the consultants wanted to create a plan that can actually be implemented, although he noted it will take some political will to make it happen.
The consultants will continue to work with the committee made up of city officials and the 80 volunteer residents who are divided into three "sub-area committees" for the north, central and south portions of the study area.
The virtual open house for residents is accessible this month by visiting the project website at FargoND.gov/CoreNeighborhoodsPlan.