Posted 3/07/12 (Wed)
By Neal A. Shipman
The last time that Watford City looked to its future it was a little over 10 years ago. At that time Watford City was a very different community than it is today. It was a community, that like so many other rural North Dakota cities, was struggling to maintain its economic vitality. Businesses were closing, its population was declining and there didn’t seem to be a way to break out of the downward spiral.
Yet community leaders at that time weren’t ready to give up on Watford City. And neither were the city residents.
In an attempt to revitalize the city, the community began a visioning project that identified several areas of needed improvements that ultimately resulted in a Main Street renovation, the building of the Wild West Water Park, improvements to the golf course and clubhouse, the building of the Long X Visitor Center, a new children’s playground, as well as many other community improvements.
But a city, like any business or individual, needs to plan for its continued growth.
“People ask all the time how big is Watford City going to be,” states Brent Sanford, Watford City mayor. “Curt Moen, our city planner, likes the number of between 6,000 to 7,000 people, and that is why we are trying to get the city’s sewer upgraded to be able to handle 7,500 people.
According to Sanford, by this spring the city expects to see construction start on new single family homes and multiple family units to accommodate 6,000 new people .
And with this massive increase in population, the need to develop a new community visioning process to carry Watford City into the future is more critical than ever.
“In 2001, Watford City came up with a grass roots plan to become successful,” stated Steve Burian of AE2S, the engineering firm hired by the City of Watford City to assist them in developing a new city vision process. “A lot of good things came out of that vision. But the time has come to look forward again.”
That new visioning process began in February when area residents were asked to participate in a survey, and then a committee of community members began the process of ranking strategic plans to identify the top needs of Watford City in the future.
Affordable Housing Tops
List of Community Needs
So what do the people of Watford City see as being the biggest needs in the future?
Not surprisingly, affordable housing is at the top of the list. And so is day care, upgrading health care services, expanding educational opportunities, having more shopping available, and more senior housing was also identified as being top priorities that need to be addressed.
And the people who responded to the survey also had definite feelings as to what new businesses or services they would like to see in Watford City in the future.
Again, not surprisingly, more restaurants, and in particular, fast food restaurants, were rated as being most needed. But also high on the list of new businesses residents would like to see come to Watford City included a bowling alley, a shopping center, discount retailers (such as an ALCO, Target, Dollar Store or Wal-Mart), a new hospital, a bookstore, gas stations and truck stops, and an indoor pool.
According to Brian Cole, president of Building Communities of Boise, Idaho, who presented the findings at a public meeting on Feb. 29, developing a strategy to make Watford City the community that the people want it to be is what the planning process is all about.
“You have a traffic record of success in this community,” stated Cole.
While Cole noted that the information gathered in Watford City will be used to help create a new vision and development plan for the city, the information will also be used in a much larger study.
“Building Communities is doing a regional plan for the 19 oil-impacted counties in western North Dakota,” stated Cole. “But the planning starts at the local level and in communities such as Watford City.”