With Bismarck and Mandan growing at unprecedented rates on an energy-driven economy, finding park space has become more challenging.
Both cities have drafted green space policies that allow developers to either donate 7 percent of their building project land or pay 7 percent of the land’s market value. The cities now rely on buying land or on donations to obtain new park land.
Mandan has passed a first reading of its policy, but is waiting for Bismarck to act. Bismarck was to bring its draft to the city commission and planning commission this month, but a decision might be held off until April or May after the Legislature deals with impact fee measures.
“We want to put it on pause and see what they do,” said Bismarck City Commissioner Josh Askvig. “We’ll see if adjustments (to the policy) need to be done.”
A public comment period is pending for the city.
Askvig said green space serves as an important part of a growing city because it acts as a buffer.
“It pulls everyone together. It’s a place to recreate. It brings aesthetics and it raises home values,” he said.
“A lot of communities around the state and country have this,” he said of a green space policy. When he first ran for office in 2010, “citizens said they wanted to dedicate park land. ... You get north of Century Avenue and there are not many parks in the city,” he said.
Bismarck has no formal policy for setting aside park space, Askvig said.
“The park district has to buy it or somebody has to donate it now,” he said. “At the rate we are growing, without a plan, it could just be house after house or building after building.”
Bismarck wants to keep that sense of open space, he said.
“We can do some smart planning and not lose sight of who we are,” Askvig said.
Bismarck Executive Parks and Recreation Director Randy Bina said the park board has already endorsed the draft plan. The park district’s comprehensive plan shows a map of the city and where gaps may be for parks.
“With the rapid growth, it has been a challenge to find open spots for neighborhood parks,” Bina said. “In the more established part of Bismarck, you can find neighborhood parks within a half-mile of homes. They are in walking distance, and that is our goal. In our growth areas, they have to travel further away. The greatest needs are neighborhood and regional parks in north Bismarck.”
Bina said the district’s larger regional parks are expected be two miles away.
Bina said 9.3 percent of city’s nearly 20,000 acres is now available park land but the park district could find enough neighborhood parks in the 7 percent plan being proposed.
“Our biggest need is neighborhood parks,” he said. “What we hear is people would like to continue the trail system and connect them to the neighborhood parks.”
He said in the park district’s strategic plan outlines acquiring a piece of property for a larger regional park in north Bismarck.
Kate Herzog, assistant director for the Bismarck Downtowners Association, said a downtown gathering space for special events is needed.
“The city’s green space plan is for new developments only,” she said. “We would go through the downtown master.”
She prefers a town square format.
“We would want at least one-quarter block,” she said. “There are a lot of surface lots that could be repurposed. We’d like an area that has a good line of sight. It would be visible, but where we could close off more streets. We want to make downtown more family-friendly,”
“We could expand our street fair, expand Urban Harvest and host a lot more events like an October Fest or a farmers market, a public tree lighting for Christmas,” Herzog said.
Mandan Parks and Recreation Director Cole Higlin said the park district is partnering with the city in a comprehensive study about space needs.
“It will show if there are shortfalls. We will have a footprint to add to the population growth,” he said.
A park land policy helps the city as a whole in raising property values, attracting new residents, adding recreation space and improving the look of the city, Higlin said. Without a park acquisition policy, “all you would have is rows of houses,” he said.
Mandan at least wants to sustain its existing level of recreation space, he said.
“(The city) has a population of 20,000 people and 7,600 acres. We have more than 300 acres of park land. That’s 5 percent. If the population increases in the future to 30,000, to retain that 5 percent, we’d have to acquire another 200 acres,” he said.
Until a donate-or-pay policy is adopted to obtain park land, Mandan will keep its 1980s policy that charges each developer $100 for each home, apartment, commercial or industrial building — which doesn’t give the park district much purchasing power for new land. This fall, the district bought 40 acres of property for $300,000 in northwest Mandan through a loan and money banked up.
“The influx on the population has a trickle effect on our programs,” Higlin said. In the past, he said, developers sold or gave the park district land that was undevelopable.
Higlin said the park district tried to change the green space policy back in 2005, but found no support because of a slow economy.
The Mandan plan will not break the city into quadrants for taking a payment instead of land, he said. The funds will develop park space where most needed or most viable.
Both cities’ draft policies allow a waiver of public green space from a developer if they blend park type features — a water fountain or garden — into building plans.
Higlin said it makes sense that the two communities have similar pay or donate park land policies.
“We are working with the same developers. One city shouldn’t appear to have an advantage, he said. “We don’t want (this policy) to limit our growth.”