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Fargo halts design standards

Fargo city commissioners have put the brakes on a proposal calling for the creation of design standards to guide future development. The concept of regulating the look of properties and creating an overall better city image is one that's been exp...

John Cosgriff

Fargo city commissioners have put the brakes on a proposal calling for the creation of design standards to guide future development.

The concept of regulating the look of properties and creating an overall better city image is one that's been explored and scrutinized by the city's planning staff and Planning Commission for more than a year.

The issue hadn't come before city commissioners until Monday, when they were asked to take what planning staff saw as the next step and approve having a consultant compile a sample ordinance for implementation of the suggested standards.

The assumption was that commissioners would first want to see what format the design guidelines would take and know how they would affect development before approving anything else, said Fargo Senior Planner Cindy Gray.

That's why planners wanted to enlist the services of the consulting firm Hoisington Koegler Group Inc. of Minneapolis at a cost of $15,060.

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But several commissioners on Monday said they have concerns about spending that kind of money without having reviewed a draft of the proposed design standards, which already has been created and earned the blessing of the Planning Commission earlier this year.

Commissioner John Cosgriff said he also wants to know what design standards entail, how strict the regulations would be and what consequences they might have on development.

"I'm wondering if we're not just a little ahead of ourselves," Cosgriff said.

A mistake in this area could have "devastating effects," he added.

Fargo Mayor Bruce Furness had some of the same concerns, especially since the city already has a land development code overseeing land use and development.

Some of the issues brought up Monday also have been echoed by developers and builders in the past year.

A letter from Goldmark to the city dated Nov. 6, 2003 indicates they don't think there's an appearance problem needing correcting.

"Appearance and design detail are not things that can be effectively legislated," the letter states.

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Commissioner Mike Williams said he understands the risks that would come with adopting design standards, but said he said he can see a lot of benefits, too.

In the end, commissioners agreed unanimously to receive and file the request for the consultant. Before deciding one way or the other, they'll call a special meeting of the city and planning commissions to get a better understanding of the issue.

The guidelines would apply to the city's new growth area since that's the area that "needs attention first because it's changing the fastest," Gray said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Mary Jo Almquist at (701) 241-5531

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