Grand Forks copes with high traffic volume but solution years away

Despite growth and increasing traffic across North Dakota, the busiest regular four-way intersection in the state remains in Grand Forks.

With traffic counts between 20,000 and 31,000 in different directions, the intersection of DeMers Avenue and Washington Street is the state’s busiest intersection where two two-way roads cross without ramps or other junctures, said Earl Haugen, who heads the Grand Forks-East Grand Forks Metropolitan Planning Organization.

His calculation is based on 2012 and 2013 traffic counts collected by the state Department of Transportation.

“Some people feel the intersection has been a chronically low level of service that we’ve all come to accept,” he said.

DeMers-Washington used to be considered one of North Dakota’s top 50 intersections with the most car accidents, and it is no longer on that list, said Jane Williams, city traffic engineer. But she guessed that it may have just been pushed down the list because of increased car accidents in other parts of the state.

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(Above photo by Kile Brewer, Herald photographer)

Demand for townhouses rising in Grand Forks

After renting a house in Grand Forks for about a year, Eric Rudnick wanted to own a home again.

The 30-year-old was originally looking for a single-family home, but it was easier to find a townhouse in his price range, he said.

“It’s more affordable,” Rudnick said, “and it’s brand new.”

Rudnick looked for about a month before finding the townhouse that he closed on Monday. “I think I was lucky to find it when I did,” he said.

For many people who maybe can’t find a house, can’t afford one or just don’t want to live in a big house anymore, townhouses are becoming a sought-after option, local experts say.

“There’s just been a demand for townhomes and condos,” said Weezie Potter, president of the Grand Forks Association of Realtors and real estate agent at Greenberg Realty.

That demand is part of the need for all types of housing, Potter said, but she has seen an increased need specifically for townhomes and condos recently, especially among people in their late-20s or 30s and senior citizens.

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(Above photo by Eric Hylden, Herald photographer)

City Council candidates discuss local challenges

Spending, housing and city growth were some of the issues addressed by candidates for Grand Forks City Council in a public forum Tuesday.

Jode Gibbs and Crystal Schneider are running for the Ward 2 seat and Jeannie Schultz Mock and Nels Christianson are running in Ward 4.

Each candidate spoke of their strong ties to Grand Forks and desire to make the city better before answering questions from the public.

In response to asking how the city government should address Grand Forks’ housing shortage, Gibbs said she believes the city should not interfere. “I think the free market should be able to operate,” she said.

Christianson mostly agreed, saying that the private developers “are ready” to build the houses needed, but the city needs to make that easier for them. One way is to make sure planned unit developments are pushed through the Planning and Zoning Commission process, he said.

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(Above photo by Tu-Uyen Tran, Grand Forks Herald)

Downtown Grand Forks rising

For Stacey Searle and Jenny Loer, downtown Grand Forks was the perfect spot for a “sisters day” last week.

“We both took the afternoon off and came downtown,” Searle said. The two East Grand Forks residents said they don’t go to downtown Grand Forks often, but when they do, it’s for the local shops.

“I wish we had more trendy boutiques like this,” Searle said while shopping in True Colors, a clothing store downtown. “It’s something other than your Target or your Walmart.”

The local atmosphere Searle and her sister described is part of what many Grand Forks area residents say they love about downtown, and recent efforts of the Downtown Development Association have stirred questions and ideas among residents and business owners about how downtown Grand Forks can continue to improve.

“In Grand Forks, we have a great base, but there’s still room for more,” said Jonathan Holth, president of the DDA’s board of directors and owner of the Toasted Frog restaurant downtown.

Continue reading this story about ideas for downtown Grand Forks here. The story is part of a series on downtown Grand Forks development. Read the other stories here and here. 

Rents continue to rise, driving some out of Grand Forks

Vanessa Coachman had wanted to upgrade her living situation.

The 25-year-old UND graduate had been living in a one-bedroom apartment downtown, which was “fine, but not the best place to start a family,” she said.

After months, her search for a modest two-bedroom apartment — in the price range of $750 to $850 per month — came up short.

“It is extremely expensive to find a two-bedroom,” and the ones in her price range were either gone too quickly or of poor quality, she said.

So, after living on her own for years, Coachman has moved back to her parents’ home in Larimore and commutes to her job at Amazon.com in Grand Forks.

“I’ll still be looking (for an apartment in Grand Forks), but from what I see in the housing market, it’s not going to happen,” she said. “It can get depressing, if you look at it.”

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Grand Forks School District parking lot project will evict apartment residents

Janet Burke. Photo by Eric Hylden, Herald photographer

Janet Burke worries that she soon won’t have a place to go as her home of 10 years is slated to be demolished for a school parking lot.

The 62-year-old’s Near North Grand Forks apartment was purchased last year by the Grand Forks Public School District, and she is being evicted April 30.

The district purchased two houses, 312 and 314 N. 5th St., in June 2013 for $215,000, according to documents provided by the School District. Those houses, along with the adjacent Executive Corners office building, are to be torn down for a Central High School parking lot.

Of the five tenants living in apartments in the two houses, four have found other living arrangements, but Burke still doesn’t know where she’ll live after she is evicted.

“My greatest fear is that I’ll have nowhere to go and nowhere to put my stuff,” Burke said. Her living room is full of boxes, clothes, out-of-place furniture and dozens of family heirlooms as she decides what she should give away and what she should pack without knowing where she’s going. “I’m really sweating bullets here. I’m scared out of my mind.”

School parking

The Central High School parking project has been in the works for years, Superintendent Larry Nybladh said.

The School District has been collaborating with the city on reducing Central High School’s use of the parking ramp and street parking so those spaces can be open for businesses, Nybladh said.

“I know the city planners are well aware of this,” he said. “We’re trying to follow what the city wants us to do.”

But City Planner Brad Gengler said he first heard about the School District’s parking lot project after residents contacted him in either February or March.

“To date, the School District has not yet contacted me or my department,” he said Monday. “I’m kind of in the dark on the whole project.”

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Marital connections make for familiar names in Grand Forks political races

There will be familiar names on the local election ballots this June, but a few of those names belong to perhaps unfamiliar faces.

The Schneider and Mock on the City Council ballot aren’t state Sen. Mac Schneider and state Rep. Corey Mock — it’s their wives, Crystal Schneider and Jeannie Schultz Mock.

And although City Council member Dana Sande is running for re-election, he is not running for Grand Forks Public School Board — his wife, Meggen Sande, is.

All three women said while they have their husbands’ support, the decision to enter local politics was their own.

“I’m my own person,” Meggen Sande said. “I would hope that people would listen to what my thoughts are, separate from what Dana’s doing.”

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THE CITY SCOOP: Rules for renting?

Each week, Herald reporter Charly Haley answers your questions about local government, laws and other local topics.

Q. What are the city’s rules for renters in neighborhoods? My neighbors have started to rent out their basement as an apartment, and now the tenant always parks on the street in front of my house, preventing me from using that parking space. The tenant is also noisy.

A. In Grand Forks, a property owner is required to get a license and a Certificate of Occupancy from the city in order to rent out their property, according to Bev Collings, building and zoning administrator for the city.

You can start the process of obtaining these documents at the Inspections Office in City Hall, she said. The city inspects rental properties approximately every five years or when complaints are reported.

When it comes to parking, all houses, regardless if they are owner-occupied or rented, are required to have a minimum of two off-street parking spaces, Collings said.

“With that said, anyone can park on the street as long as they are not breaking any parking laws,” she said. “The street is for public use. A home owner does not own the parking spot on the street in front of their house.”

And about the noise, Collings said, the city does have a noise ordinance, and if someone feels another person is breaking that ordinance they can call the Grand Forks Police Department to investigate.

Plans changed

Q. It seems odd that South 23rd Street runs from 32nd Avenue straight into the parking lot of Lithia, while drivers along the frontage road must stop. Is there any logical reason for that configuration?

A. When that part of town was not yet developed in the 1980s, the city had planned to have South 23rd Street connect 32nd Avenue and 36th Avenue, according to Brad Gengler, city planner.

Walmart then came into that area and part of their development involved a frontage road, Gengler said. When Hanson Ford, which is now Lithia, started their development, they wanted to continue the frontage road all the way to South 20th Street.

The Lithia development changed the plans for South 23rd Street, Gengler said.

The reason for the stop signs on the frontage road and not on South 23rd Street, he said, is so that traffic won’t back up and affect traffic on 32nd Avenue South.

Have a question about government or other local issues? Email chaley@gfherald.com or call 701-780-1102.

Round-up of City Council candidates

Grand Forks City Council seats in Wards 2, 4 and 6 are up for election in June.

The Ward 2 race has two newcomers. Incumbent Tyrone Grandstrand is not running for a second term:

  • Crystal Schneider, a former executive of a nonprofit-group, said she wants to keep property taxes down, push for affordable housing and make Grand Forks more attractive to young professionals.
  • Jode Gibbs, a volunteer, said she wants to bring “a common sense, conservative approach” to City Hall.

The Ward 4 race two newcomers also. Incumbent Hal Gershman, first elected in 2000, is not running again.

  • Nels Christianson, a small-business owner, said he wants to lower property taxes.
  • Jeannie Schultz Mock, an environmental scientist at an engineering firm, said her experience with regulatory issues will help the council.

In Ward 6, incumbent Dana Sande is running unopposed for his second term.

Grand Forks business group to introduce, seek ideas at Downtown Day

Community leaders are looking to bring excitement and improvements to downtown Grand Forks, and they’re going to introduce many of their ideas Thursday.

The Downtown Development Association of Grand Forks is hosting “Downtown Day” at the Empire Arts Center Thursday to present a vision and cultivate ideas for downtown.

The event will feature Doug Burgum, founder and chairman of Kilbourne Group in Fargo, which played a significant role in the revitalization of downtown Fargo, said Jonathan Holth, president of the Grand Forks DDA’s board of directors and a downtown business owner.

Other speakers will include Mayor Mike Brown, Grand Forks City Council President Hal Gershman and officers of the DDA. The event, which is free and open to the public, will also include a conversation for all community members to voice their ideas about downtown, Holth said.

“We want to build downtown into a destination district,” Holth said.

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