Controversial Newman Center project gains the green light

A project to upgrade the St. Paul's Newman Center and build apartments would take up an entire block near the North Dakota State University campus. Submitted.
A project to upgrade the St. Paul's Newman Center and build apartments would take up an entire block near the North Dakota State University campus. Submitted.

FARGO — Fargo City Commissioners had just enough votes to approve the St. Paul's Newman Center project compromise Monday, Feb. 11.

Because a super majority was needed after neighbors filed a petition against part of the project, four out of five commissioners had to vote for the project.

Only City Commissioner Tony Gehrig voted against the project after he asked Roers Development officials if they were going to seek tax breaks or other incentives for the $40 million project on 12th Street and University Drive near the southeast entrance to North Dakota State University.

Larry Nygard, vice president of development for the company, said "yes."

Gehrig said he appreciated the honesty but because of that, he would be opposing the project that involves a major expansion of the Catholic Church's Newman Center but also a controversial market-based apartment building by Roers that will be attached.

The project involves tearing down an entire city block and starting from scratch.

City Commissioner John Strand, before voting for the project, drew applause from some of the residents in the Roosevelt School neighborhood at the hearing when he said he hoped "a neighborhood would never have to go through this again."

He said that the City Commission bears a responsibility to have a more clear policy when such a project is proposed in one of the city's core neighborhoods where single family homes could be demolished for apartment complexes.

Strand and Mayor Tim Mahoney said they were working with the city planning department to develop a policy for the city's core neighborhoods to help keep them intact with single family homes by working with other agencies. Mahoney added that they are trying to balance keeping neighborhoods vibrant but also concerned about infill and rebuilding in already developed areas within the city instead of continually taking more land as the city expands.

Mahoney added that Gov. Doug Burgum is a big proponent of infill within cities.

A view of the St. Paul's Newman Center project looking toward the west. Submitted.
A view of the St. Paul's Newman Center project looking toward the west. Submitted.

As for the Roosevelt neighborhood, Strand said they will be going through "a grieving process" as they lose part of their identity.

However, he said although "nobody's happy" he wanted to commend Roers and the Roosevelt Neighborhood Association for working together with the city to reach a compromise.

Neighbors never objected to the Newman Center portion of the project, but worried about the apartment complex that would be going up in their midst.

However, Roers made several concessions.

The main points include:

  • Lowering the height of the apartment building from six to four stories with a segment down to three stories on the southeast corner of the complex.
  • Adding a plat of land for another four town homes that would shield the parking lot from neighbors once the first seven town homes added in earlier plans are sold. This also helps in replacing the 12 single-family homes being demolished.
  • Adding green space on the southeast corner of the block.
  • Increasing the number of both surface and underground parking spaces with a ratio of about one parking space per bedroom.
  • Reducing the number of market-based and faith-based apartments from a high of 132 down to 109.
  • Saving two of the historic homes from the block possibly and moving them to another location in the neighborhood.

Ken Enockson, one of the neighborhood association negotiators, told the council there were still some in the neighborhood who "vehemently" oppose the project.

He said the housing density was of major concern, although it was lowered from 33 dwelling units per acre to 32.

Enockson said it was still "four times" over what city regulations call for under current zoning. He added that overflow parking was still a concern, too.

However, the Rev. James Chaney of the Newman Center expressed thanks that the project could finally move forward after he said he had been working on it for 14 years. The current center, built in 1958, is overcrowded and he said they intend to build a "safe environment around NDSU."

The Newman Center project will include a new 500-seat chapel, student commons, parish hall, kitchen, coffee shop, bookstore, administrative offices, classrooms, priest residences, and faith-based housing. The number of faith-based housing units were also lowered in negotiations from 29 apartments to 24.

Nygard wrote in a letter to the commissioners that it will add affordable housing for NDSU students and other low-income residents who will be close to campus and bus routes.

It's not known if the project will get underway yet this year, but Nygard was hopeful.