Lagoon land may become the site of West Fargo's next neighborhood
West Fargo will use a study to figure out the next steps for the city, including what to do with decommissioned lagoons.
WEST FARGO — Once West Fargo recognized its land south of Interstate 94 would be developed, the city's population began to explode. Now, development is quickly reaching the city's borders to the south and west, but city planners don't expect that to stunt growth any time soon.
Instead, the West Fargo planning department is looking up — to the northwest, to be exact.
As the Fargo-Moorhead Flood Diversion continues its path to completion and the city of West Fargo continues to decommission nearly 600 acres of its former wastewater system, the city is expecting that development and growth could explode north of Main Avenue and north of the historic heart of West Fargo: the former West Fargo Stockyards.
The city's planning department hired consultants PlaceMakers LLC to help create an "action plan" that designates a timeline of planning projects to be completed over the next five to 10 years. The consultants placed priority levels on the projects, starting with the city creating a master plan for what it will do with the acreage of the lagoon system.
City staff and PlaceMakers consultants first met with city commissioners and planning commission members Feb. 8, and the action plan was presented to the Planning and Zoning Commission on Tuesday, March 7.
The action plan calls on the City Commission and city staff to develop a plan as early as this spring for how it will use the land freed up by the decommissioning of the lagoon system along 12th Avenue West in the northwest part of the city.
The south side of the lagoons is almost fully decommissioned and scheduled to be tested for phosphorus in 2023. The decommissioning of cells five and six is scheduled for 2023, and two more cells are slated for 2024.
A significant amount of land is expected to be ready in the next two years.
PlaceMakers provided three possible methods of handling development of the lagoon system: 1. Sell to a private developer. 2. Enter a public-private partnership. 3. The city becomes the property developer.
Selling the land would include the least amount of financial risk to the city and would use the least amount of staff time, but it is likely to have the smallest return on investment.
Entering into a public-private partnership would mean the city retains a partial equity stake in the property, and some financial investment would be placed on a private developer.
If the city were to become the developer, it would have to hire a planning consultant to work with the community and create a builders' guild to construct the property in line with the city’s plans and architectural design guidelines.
The benefits of the city being a developer is that they would retain complete control over the development patterns of the new developments and reap the full financial benefits of owning and managing the property. A major downside to the city becoming a developer would be the city assuming all of the financial risk.
PlaceMakers suggested the city issue a Request for Expressions of Interest within the next year to national and regional developers asking for their level of interest in the redevelopment of the lagoon property.
The City Commission should start that process in July and finish by September, according to the action plan, with city staff working on the project as early as April.
PlaceMakers identified projects it recommends the city take on sooner than later by dividing them up into short-term, mid-term and long-term.
Short-term projects include implementing a Downtown Master Plan 2, finding a strategy for the lagoon development, defining the city's economic development strategy and capital improvement planning.
The existing Downtown West Fargo Framework Study was completed in 2011. The vision established Sheyenne Street as a pedestrian-oriented main street and gathering place of the city along with improvements to properties along Main Avenue. The city has continued to work toward goals set in that study over the last 12 years.
"Most of the short-term projects identified in this action plan will benefit from public input into the planning stages for each initiative," the action plan said.
In the next five to 10 years, the city should look to update its sign code, a growth area master plan, city codes and specific corridors, as well as increase coordination for space management. Space management includes a possible third fire station and new library.
The long-term goals for the city as presented by PlaceMakers are to continue a public arts plan and eventually update the West Fargo 2.0 plan, which was created in 2018.
The city's zoning code has not been updated since the mid-1980s.
"Typically, your zoning code is the primary tools you use to implement your comprehensive plan when it comes to land use and development," City Planning Director Aaron Nelson said. "Right now, we have a comprehensive plan that is newer than our zoning codes."
Nelson said he plans to bring forward the PlaceMakers study to the City Commission as a whole at a later date. He is preparing to bring a downtown master plan to the commission in April.
Readers can reach West Fargo editor Wendy Reuer at email@example.com or 701-241-5530 . Follow her on Twitter @ForumWendy .