Forum Editorial: Roers should pay a price for failing to meet townhome project deadline
City Hall should send a clear message in renegotiating Roers Development's tax incentive that breaking a promise comes at a real price. The developer failed to meet a deadline for building townhomes that were central to a development in the Roosevelt neighborhood.
To grasp the gravity of Roers Development’s failure to build a row of seven townhomes near North Dakota State University, it’s necessary to recall the Roosevelt neighborhood’s concerns about the campus-related growth gobbling up old residential housing.
Opposition to the complex including a new Newman Center and associated apartments that Roers’ agreement to build the townhouses as a buffer was critical to the Fargo City Commission’s approval of the project.
So when Roers cavalierly blew past its December 2021 deadline for completing the townhouses, city leaders were understandably and justifiably angry. This was a big breach in trust.
Recently, the City Commission declared Roers in default on its obligation to build the townhomes to qualify for a tax break of almost $1 million — an incentive not yet received by Roers, and under scrutiny at City Hall.
Jim Roers has cited traffic congestion and difficulty in obtaining building materials as excuses for failing to complete a project that hasn’t even begun construction. The facts demonstrate — starkly — that this was a flagrant disregard by Roers to honor its deal with the city.
After the city declared Roers in default, the company promptly produced conceptual drawings of the townhomes, but has yet to file the detailed architectural drawings that city planning officials will need to sign off on the plans.
Roers has vowed to start construction as soon as the OK comes from City Hall, and we have no reason to doubt that, given the outcries and negative publicity his failure to meet the deadline have provoked.
With the city elections now behind us, a new City Commission will be in office on June 28, with Denise Kolpack coming on board as a new commissioner. One of the new commission’s top priorities should be to decide what’s to be done about the tax incentives for the Roers project.
Roers’ defenders have pointed out that he and his company have done a lot of good things for the city over the years, and have cited his philanthropic support for the Jeremiah Program, which houses 20 single-parent families and educates about 50 children a year.
That should be considered when the City Commission decides what action to take; specifically, if it should reduce or even rescind that tax incentives.
The point shouldn’t be to vilify Roers or gratuitously punish a serious lapse. It seems likely that, perhaps for financial reasons, Roers delayed the townhomes and hoped that supply-chain snarls and other disruptions caused by the pandemic would give him cover.
If so, that was poor judgment. But it was also more than that; it was an abuse of the trust he’d been granted, a broken promise.
The penalty should be meaningful, so the message is clear not only to Roers but to other developers that breaking a promise to the city and to taxpayers comes with a very real price.