By Kristen M. Daum
When Nancy Loberg’s grandparents settled on their
more-than-200-acre homestead in 1891, West Fargo was but
a gleam in North Dakota’s eye.
Now the Loberg family’s property on the western edge of West Fargo is one of the few sections
of the city left with natural landscape and without firm plans for development.
“We need this wide-open country,” said the 55-year-old lifelong resident. “I see too much of the development going to farmland.”
Much of the rest of West Fargo has blossomed past Loberg’s property through a series of new projects, subdivisions and schools.
Less than 10 years ago, the city was all but confined north of Interstate 94.
But through several annexation battles, West Fargo expanded southward to envelop Loberg’s land and several thousand acres up to the edges of Fargo and Horace. Such growth brought a larger population and a broader tax base for the city.
But it also came with a measure of strain. School resources are stretched to the max as the district struggles to find room for all of its children.
Once-rural residents, like Loberg, have had to bear the brunt of special assessments to pay for infrastructure extensions as the city sprawls southward.
And vast residential developments quickly swallow up available land, reducing the chance for commercial enterprise.
Even now, West Fargo continues to grow, although not as rapidly as it did a few years ago.
New developments are expected to fill in the remaining pockets of farmland within decades, and West Fargo leaders want to use the little land that’s left as efficiently as possible.
City officials acknowledge that, in some ways, West Fargo grew almost too fast for its own good.
“For a while there, we were going so fast it was hard to keep track of everything,” said Rich Mattern, West Fargo’s mayor since 2002. “There were a lot of lessons learned during that growth spurt.”
After the 1997 flood hit Fargo-Moorhead, Mattern said he saw early indicators of what would be the fastest period of growth West Fargo has ever seen.
New residents were attracted by the safe haven of flood protection offered by the Sheyenne Diversion, which borders the western edges of West Fargo and Horace.
“The diversion has been worth its weight in gold,” Mattern said.
Since 2000, West Fargo has doubled in size, and the population has grown by more than half, making West Fargo the fifthlargest city in North Dakota.
Official Census counts will be released later this month, but city leaders estimate the population is likely around 26,000.
“The city did grow really fast, especially when you’re talking about how it all came about so fast south of the interstate,” said West Fargo senior planner Steven Zimmer.
West Fargo officials estimate the population will peak at upward of 40,000 residents when every acre is developed, which could happen within decades.
West Fargo’s land-use plan calls for primarily residential development south of I-94. That would eventually include Loberg’s property.
For now, Loberg is adamant about keeping most of her land for farming.
“Too much farmland is going to be eaten up, and this is the best farmland there is,” she said.
A few years ago, Loberg and her brother, Ronald, divided the family homestead to ease the burden of special assessments they incurred during West Fargo’s boom.
She said Ronald has had his 100-acre share up for sale since then but hasn’t had any luck selling it.
Loberg said she might consider developing only some of her land along Sheyenne Street, which borders her property.
“There’s too much (land) going to housing,” she said.
West Fargo hit the peak of its growth spurt between about 2004 and 2006.
During those years, the population exploded by double-digits, and newhome construction reached an all-time high.
That’s also when West Fargo’s Eagle Run subdivision began to take shape south of 32nd Avenue and west of Sheyenne Street.
“When the developer said he wanted to develop a mile south of the city, it went through a lot of questioning and concerns,” Zimmer recalled. “Who would want to go south of the interstate? But not only south of the interstate – why do we want to go a mile-and-a-half south?”
“It’s been a good thing for the city that they did it,” he said. “Once that started, it really started to snowball.”
Now portions of south West Fargo are home to various residential subdivisions, such as Westwood, Westport Beach, Nelson Acres and McMahon’s.
Several others are under development and expected to come to fruition within a few decades, such as Eaglewood, Shadow Wood, and subdivisions in The Preserve, like Mapleridge.
With West Fargo’s recent slowdown in growth, city officials could see consequences from such rapid expansion.
The city traditionally lacked businesses and shopping destinations, and the barrage of residential devel opment didn’t help strike a balance.
West Fargo planners have run out of areas where they could boost the presence of commercial property.
City leaders appear to have put their remaining hopes for commercial development into undeveloped property off the Sheyenne Street/Veterans Bou - levard corridor, which is poised for development within the next 10 to 20 years.
“As far as (commercial) goes, this is about all we’ve really got left,” Zimmer said.
West Fargo could always expand into its extra-territorial area, where the city has zoning authority.
But that land lies north and west of West Fargo and is comprised of floodprone fields beyond the shelter of the Sheyenne Diversion.
Mattern and other city leaders have recently been at odds with the Army Corps of Engineers over West Fargo’s desire to push the proposed alignment of the Red River Diversion farther west.
The extra space would give West Fargo room to expand in the future, but corps officials have said that isn’t a justifiable reason to shift the alignment.
In the meantime, West Fargo has begun to reexamine older areas of the city, looking for opportunities for redevelopment and more efficient uses of land.
The city is in the midst of a redevelopment study of its downtown corridor along portions of Sheyenne Street and Main Avenue. It should be completed by late fall.
“We’re to the point now where we’re running out of land, and so we’re starting to look at the redevelopment of some areas – even through a little more development that maximizes the amount of land that we do have,” Zimmer said.
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