The Highland Acres neighborhood in Bismarck has an interesting past, and it’s understandable why residents are proud of it. Some have organized in an effort to have the area listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
It’s a commendable goal, one that merits the support the group behind it has received from the city and state. However, the Tribune editorial board believes there are limits on what the city can do.
Highland Acres was formed after World War II when veterans returned to find a housing shortage in Bismarck. Veteran groups created a housing cooperative at the site of what’s Highland Acres, according to Jim Fuglie, a resident of the neighborhood who has researched the history of the area. The neighborhood eventually was completed as a private venture.
It’s a lovely community with a lot of trees lining the streets and the yards, with residences ranging from starter homes to very expensive. There are sidewalks in the neighborhood, but not in the more private cul-de-sac areas.
The Bismarck City Commission has been considering sidewalks in those areas, and it has sparked debate in the neighborhood. The controversy goes back to 2017 when the group organized to pursue the National Register.
Since that time, the commission has delayed sidewalk installation three times to allow the group to get on the registry. In January, the commissioners delayed the sidewalks for the third time until October 2021.
If Highland Acres gets on the registry it won’t prevent the city from installing sidewalks. Bruce Whitney, who has led the effort to get on the registry, has argued delaying the sidewalks will improve the chances of getting on the registry.
The group faces other challenges.
The effort to get on the registry has been slowed by the North Dakota State Historic Preservation Office's requirement to survey all the homes in the neighborhood to qualify for a nomination to the National Register. The group also failed to get a grant from the State Historical Society of North Dakota. The Historic Preservation Commission is helping the group apply for another grant.
The group seeking the historic designation is small, and it has been difficult to keep volunteers for three years. It would appear it will take the group considerable time to prepare an application for the registry.
City officials have been more than helpful, and the Tribune believes there shouldn’t be another extension beyond October 2021. Commissioner Shawn Oban, who voted against the extension, said when he was principal of Highland Acres Elementary School, parents complained about safety issues of children walking to school on the streets.
It’s a valid concern, and the Tribune believes safety should come before the character of a community. The city needs to monitor the situation, and if children are in danger the commission shouldn’t wait until 2021 to take action.
The Tribune supports the efforts of Highland Acres to get on the registry. However, we don’t believe children should be put at risk to do so. Hopefully, that’s not the case.
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