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New view of neighborhood: Fargo to research what to do in Roosevelt area

R.C."Chuck" Solly stands outside his home Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2016, in the Roosevelt neighborhood near North Dakota State University, Fargo. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor

FARGO—A recent college graduate in urban policy will try to take a fresh look at issues plaguing one of Fargo's most complex neighborhoods.

The Roosevelt neighborhood, which borders the expanding North Dakota State University campus to the south and east, continues to see single-family homes fall into disrepair as ownership rates decline and rental rates rise in the push for more student housing.

There's also ongoing concern about the number of high-density apartment buildings going up to house those students in and near the 100-year-old neighborhood.

City commissioner John Strand and senior planner Dan Mahli are helping to coordinate the research effort.

"Roosevelt is our most challenging neighborhood at present," Strand said.

Tyrone Grandstrand, a Karlstad, Minn., native who grew up in Grand Forks and served a term on the city council there, is working pro bono, at no cost.

Grandstrand received a master's degree in May from the Milano School of International Affairs, Management and Urban Policy, a branch of The New School in New York City. He said he wants to use the skills he learned there to get a new view of Roosevelt's challenges.

He's talking one-on-one with residents to determine why certain revitalization and zoning policies enacted by the city haven't been sufficient and hear what further action should be taken.

Grandstrand has begun interviews with what could be as many as two dozen residents. Surveys may also be sent out, and there may be events held where homeowners, landlords, renters, developers and others can give input.

There's one underlying theme of what he's heard so far.

"People really love the neighborhood they're in," Grandstrand said.

But he's hearing complaints, too; primarily, that some landlords allow their rental properties to deteriorate. Ken Enockson with the Roosevelt Neighborhood Association said his hunch is that it's a move by landlords to keep their property taxes from going up.

"It's a business decision," Enockson said.

Rental housing dominates

That problem is exacerbated by the fact that rental housing rules the Roosevelt neighborhood.

According to 2010 figures from the U.S. Census Bureau and the Fargo Planning Department, only 23 percent of people in the Roosevelt area own the property they live in.

R.C."Chuck" Solly and his wife Betty are among that small percentage of homeowners. They've lived in their 100-year-old home along 10th Street North for 36 years.

"We used to be the youngest in the neighborhood, now we're the oldest," Betty said.

One of Chuck's main complaints is contractors who buy up multiple lots for a bargain, tear down the homes and put a 12-plex in their place. He said that kind of density housing stresses the area in terms of utilities and parking.

"You can tell the rented homes, the rented apartments because there are cars all over the place," Chuck said. "The idea of concentrating that many people in the neighborhood is silly."

Both he and Enockson think the city needs to fund more robust inspection teams and to enforce rules that are on the books.

That way, if the owner of a rental property decides to sell, there's a fighting chance to convert it back to a single-family home and attract a new family to the neighborhood.

"If the house is a disaster, that doesn't encourage people to move in and rehab it," Enockson said.

There is a Neighborhood Revitalization Initiative in place, aimed at encouraging investment in the city's existing housing stock. It's a combination of programs offering incentives for people to renovate their owner-occupied houses.

Enockson said he thinks it needs to be expanded to allow more people to take advantage.

'Love-hate relationship'

Enockson is concerned about several big projects coming down the pike; among them, a five-story housing complex as part of new construction of St. Paul's Newman Center on University Drive and 12th Avenue North. He's concerned about heavy traffic there, especially during times of worship.

Enockson also thinks a student housing complex to be built at 12th Avenue North and 14th Street, across from the campus library, is another sign of NDSU's ever-encroaching footprint.

He said south of campus, they're 'resigned to the fact' that the whole neighborhood will someday become an extension of the school.

In Chuck Solly's opinion, the people of Roosevelt still have a "love-hate relationship" with the university.

"It's nice to have NDSU around, the infusion of cash into the economy is always good," Solly said. "However, you have to put up with a lot of this stuff."

Grandstrand will compile his interviews and come up with an analytical brief to present to the Community Development Committee and eventually the City Commission. It may include some recommended policies or action plans.

Strand likes the fact that all voices will be included.

"This approach has nobody who's got a vested interest or someone who has more than anybody else. It's an outside look, not driven by any special interests," Strand said.

He hopes it could end up being a 'benchmark' type of proposal.

"It might also have applications (for other neighborhoods) across the city," Strand said.

By the numbers

Roosevelt Neighborhood, 2010

Population 8,730

Housing Units 3,180

Owner 670

Renter 2,319

Homeownership 23 percent

Source: U.S. Census Bureau, Fargo Planning Department