WEST FARGO — The West Fargo Park District would like to sell a plot of land it owns near Sheyenne Street and 19th Avenue South, but nearby residents say it should remain green space.
West Fargo Parks Executive Director Barb Erbstoesser said one of two parcels at 408 and 320 19th Ave. W. were platted in 2002. Lot 64, a former farmstead that sits on 3.11 acres and was donated to the district and the adjacent 2 acres of Lot 63 was bought at the same time by the Park District and zoned for public use.
The Park District used the smaller lot to build a bike and pedestrian path that leads to the 65-acre Elmwood Park about 450 feet from the residential area. The district used the farm buildings for storage until 2018, when reconstruction began on Sheyenne Street. Since then, access to the site was cut off and trucks are unable to easily get to the property, so the district no longer uses the property. While it will retain the bike path and easements around it, the Park District would like to sell the second larger lot.
But nearby residents would like to see the open space remain.
“We are a small community of mostly single-family residential homes,” said resident Katina Behm in an email to city and park officials. “Doubling the number of townhomes on this street is inconsistent with the vision for our neighborhood and could destroy its character. I am afraid the increased density would have a negative impact on the value of our homes/neighborhood.”
Erbstoesser said when the land was first donated, the Park District envisioned the property becoming a park or perhaps an urban farm but as West Fargo quickly grew, the district focused new parks elsewhere. Erbstoesser said limited access and no available parking space makes the plot difficult to develop as park.
“Since we acquired the property back in 2002, so much of West Fargo has changed; so much of the West Fargo Park District has changed,” Erbstoessser said. “ We didn't even have 125 acres at the time. Now have about 600 acres [of park land].”
Since the land is zoned by the city, the Park District, a separate taxing entity, requested the West Fargo Planning and Zoning Commission rezone the property in March from public to private so that a developer could build on the land. After residents voiced their opposition to the development on the land, the planning and zoning committee denied the initial application because the commission felt it needed more information about what kind of development may be built there, West Fargo Senior Planner Tim Solberg said.
“The city will still dictate how it gets developed,” Erbstoesser said. “We have no one interested in developing it. We still have to go through a legal public bidding process to sell.”
Solberg said the Park District can appeal the decision or move forward with a process of vacating the property.
The land could be open to residential or commercial development, but Erbstoesser said the board would rather ask that the land be sold for residential development.
“This property is the gateway to our park,” Behm said. “Our neighborhood children play on that open field. Every city in the United States understands the importance and need to keep as much open space as possible because it improves the quality of life for its residents. Taking away open space is just wrong.”
Any money from the sale of the land, which was appraised for about $4 to $6 per square foot, would be used to fund park improvements. At $6 per square foot, the 3.11 acres could sell for about $813,000.
“It’s not about the money; it’s about having land we can’t use. We’ve done a lot of projects in West Fargo without raising the mill levy,” Erbstoesser said. “We’ve always worked with our growth. In fact, we’ve even lowered our mill levy at times.”
Erbstoesser said that if the lot remains zoned public, the nearly $60,000 in anticipated special assessments for the Sheyenne Street project in that area will be spread back to the taxpayers rather than a private developer.
The Park District currently maintains 40 parks and just shy of 600 acres of land. Construction on its 41st park on 11 acres in the Wilds development will begin this year, Erbstoesser said.
While the Park District anticipates adding about one park per year from new developments over the next five years, updates to older parks and potential new parks in the northern part of West Fargo are on the horizon, Erbstoesser said.
The Park District invited about 90 households, or those who live within 300 feet of the property, to open meetings on April 24 and May 1.
The Park Board will discuss appealing the Planning and Zoning Committee decision at its meeting at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, May 8.