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Conference center plans proceeding after citizens express concern

West Fargo Planning and Zoning Commissioners met Monday night to a packed house of residents of The Villas and Evergreen Estates voicing their concerns about a proposed hotel and conference center directly across from them and Cheney Middle School on Beaton Drive southwest ofthe corner of Ninth Street East and 19th Avenue in Charleswood 29th Addition.

When discussion was said and done the board voted to move forward by a unanimous vote to rezone the 16.54 acre parcel from agricultural to planned unit development to allow for the hotel with a conference center and general commercial development, with the action affirmation that that proposal is consistent with city plans and ordinances. Part of the motion also included the staff being directed to set a meeting between the area residents and developers in an effort to come up with an eventual plan for the site that hopefully could be amenable to everyone.

Residents voiced concerns about noise from delivery and garbage trucks, traffic and road conditions, the lack of a traffic signal, and safety for the school children.

Mike Tomasko, president of the Evergreen Estates homeowners association, told the board that in addition to everything else he had a concern about "the ability to handle increased traffic on Beaton Drive" with only one way in and one way out. He noted that backed up traffic is already a problem in the area. He also asked where exit and entrance driveways would be and added a major concern about business signage and lighting.

Mike Bernath, president of The Villas homeowners group, said that he agreed with everything stated adding that no matter what is developed on the parcel he hoped specific conditions would be attached regarding lighting, buffering, etc. that would be acceptable to everyone.

Many of the residents said that when they purchased their homes, they asked what the potential development would be and never did a hotel end up being the answer. Otherwise, they said they would have considered living elsewhere.

Lisa Dirk, a resident of The Villas, asked the commission to reevaluate the plan considering if it is a good one for the area. Living directly across the street she said she worried the homes in her development would be "the buffer" between the proposed complex and the rest of the city. "None of us in our wildest imaginations ever thought there would be a hotel there."

West Fargo City Administrator Jim Brownlee told the group that the idea of a hotel in that location has been a possibility for at least eight years, when a developer started conversation about the idea. He said a TIF district has been authorized when Charleswood 25th was approved with the condition placed on the property that a hotel and conference center needed to be developed in order for the TIF benefits to be extended to the property owner of Charleswood 29th.

Senior City Planner Steve Zimmer added that the City's 2000 comprehensive plan also

included language allowing for such a use.

Zimmer noted this this first phase of the action only was to consider if this was an appropriate use for the piece of land in question and that developers will now have to present detailed development plans that will include scaled site plans, building elevations and landscape plans which will show exactly what is proposed to be constructed.

P and Z board member Jerry Beck said although he supported a hotel conference center, he too questioned the ability of the area to handle the traffic.

Zimmer said that staff is studying traffic concerns noting that "it won't take a lot more traffic to warrant a signal light."

He also added that developers will be more than willing to sit down with residents to discuss the questions raised. "There number one concern is aesthetics."

A representative of the developer also at the meeting provided the same assurances of a willingness to work together.

Tomasko said their groups would be meeting and that they were willing to work with developers to arrive at a suitable plan that would address their concerns.

The action was approved along with seven conditions. The next point of action will be the review of the detailed development plans at the Planning and Zoning Commission on October 8th. If approved the plans will be forwarded to the City Commission for review of the rezoning from Ag to PUD, the platting of the property and the land use plan amendment to allow retail commercial uses. Prior to the detailed development plan review on October 8th city staff will work with the developer to set up a meeting with neighboring property owners.