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Boom town: Westward flow keeps West Fargo on the go

West Fargo has been North Dakota's fastest-growing city for the past four decades, and city officials see little reason for that to change in the next 10 years.

West Fargo has been North Dakota's fastest-growing city for the past four decades, and city officials see little reason for that to change in the next 10 years.

Strong in residential development for many years, the city also saw industrial development in the last 10 years and a spurt in commercial and retail building in the past five years.

"Right now we're experiencing growth on all three fronts, which is unprecedented in our history," City Planner Larry Weil said.

Completing the Sheyenne diversion project in 1993 was the key to encouraging people to build in West Fargo, city officials said.

The project is a channel and levee system that sends river water around the city during floods. It eliminated the need for people to buy flood insurance or build homes so the main floor is above possible flooding.


Mayor David Stedman said that when people saw the diversion protected West Fargo during the devastating 1997 flood, the city became an even more desirable place to live.

City officials contend that West Fargo's small-town atmosphere, nicely designed residential neighborhoods and the school system also help attract people.

"The school system here is second to none," Stedman said.

The school district's enrollment continues to climb even though larger cities such as Fargo and Moorhead have lost students.

School Superintendent Chuck Cheney said the increase likely is because much of the new housing is going up in the southwestern part of the metropolitan area, and a lot of that is in the West Fargo School District.

Other factors, such as the district's growing reputation for educational excellence and lower school taxes, also help boost enrollment, he said.

To make the district even better, voters last month overwhelmingly approved a $31 million bond referendum for a new middle school and additions or remodeling at all six elementary schools. The referendum passed with a decisive 90 percent of voters in favor of it.

As for commercial and retail development, Fargo may unwittingly be helping its neighbor to the west.


Weil said that as Fargo runs out of commercial space along the high-traffic 13th Avenue South, businesses grab up land along the avenue in West Fargo.

Trading spaces

Gary and Nancy Ostrom moved their hardware store, a longtime fixture on Sheyenne Street, to 13th Avenue and Ninth Street East last year precisely because it's one of the busiest intersections in town.

"We were starting to see a trend of a downturn in traffic on Sheyenne Street," he said.

The store opened on Sheyenne in 1966 as an OK Hardware. It later became a Hardware Hank franchise. The Ostroms renamed it Ostrom's Ace Hardware when they bought it in 1986.

Uncertainty over the economy, the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and the mild winter put a dent in business in the past few months, Gary Ostrom said, but he has no regrets about the move.

"I think it's going to be a great location," he said.

Stedman said industrial development is booming because companies discovered that West Fargo has some prime, easily accessible land available north of town.


Linda Gaughan, a city commissioner for the past 12 years, said she thinks West Fargo will keep growing for many of the same reasons.

"The diversion is still such a good feature when people think about building," she said. "I think the school system continues to wow people. ... There's lots of room for growth. I think the potential is there."

Room to grow

Weil said the commission took a huge step in assuring the city has room to grow when it voted last month to annex about 720 acres south of Interstate 94 to the city.

He said nearly all of the land for residential development north of the interstate is committed, and it likely will be fully developed within six years.

Eagle Run, the housing development planned for the acreage south of the interstate, has the potential for up to 600 homes.

Weil said West Fargo and the rest of the metropolitan area can continue to grow as long there are enough workers to fill jobs. The city doesn't have an unlimited supply of newcomers to tap, though, and that worries him.

"You can only draw so much from rural North Dakota and rural Minnesota, and we've done a lot of that," he said.


The solution, as he sees it, is convincing students who come here for college to stay and enticing people who moved away to return.

"There are a lot of folks who left the area who would like to come back," he said.

Planning ahead

This rapid expansion also raises some concerns for Gaughan.

City officials need to start looking for other sources of water, she said. The city gets its water from wells that draw from an aquifer, an underground layer of rock or sand that contains water.

Gaughan said the aquifer isn't recharging as fast as it once did, and although that's not an immediate concern, it's not too early to ensure the city has a good water supply in the future.

She also thinks officials need to make sure the city doesn't overextend itself financially. They must balance the need for city services in the new parts of town with essential improvements in the older parts of town, she said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Ellen Crawford at ecrawford@forumcomm.com or (701) 241-5523


City profile: West Fargo

* Population: 14,940 (an increase of 22 percent from 1990 census total of 12,287).

* Mayor: David Stedman (elected in 1994; will not seek re-election in June).

* History: From 1871 to 1925, the town was called Haggart, after the name of its first settler, farmer John Haggart. In 1925, it changed its name to the village of West Fargo. In 1937, it became the village of Southwest Fargo, which was incorporated as a city in 1948. In 1967, the area south of Main Avenue became West Fargo and the area north of Main became West Fargo Industrial Park. In 1974, West Fargo Industrial Park became the city of Riverside. In 1989, West Fargo and Riverside consolidated to become what is now the city of West Fargo.


2000 census (14,940)

White 14,402, 96.4%

Hispanic 211, 1.4%


American Indian and Alaska Native 156, 1.0%

Black or African American 63, 0.4%

Asian 42, 0.3%

1990 census (12,287)

White 12,108, 98.5%

American Indian, Eskimo or Aleut 102, 0.8%

Hispanic 88, 0.7%

Asian or Pacific Islander 26, 0.2%

Black 12, 0.1%

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