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Action trumps talk as Watford City continues growth in 2014

Posted 1/15/14 (Wed)

By Stephanie Norman
Farmer Staff Writer

Just a few short years ago, Watford City was mostly flat; no chain grocery store, no big office buildings, less dining selections, certainly not as much traffic on the streets and there was no need for so many residential quarters simply because the population was only 1,500.
This oil boom has been tremendous for the growth of the town. Last year the community heard whispers of more building and watched dirt being tossed around. By the end of 2013, retail businesses in Watford nearly doubled. But this year, contractors are going vertical. Mayor Brent Sanford is confident that this is the year actions will trump the talk.
“The wave is here,” Sanford said. “And it is not going away. Right now, we are in an in-between limbo stage and vacant buildings won’t be vacant long.”
Paper drawings will come to life in 2014. Watford City will see expansion and the community will have to adjust and make room.
South Park is well on its way, but will continue to welcome new businesses this year. Main Street is undergoing numerous remodels and construction. And Watford Square, on the north side of Main, is taking shape quickly. There will be three buildings, two of which will house residential and commercial fronts, while one will be strictly residential.
“Watford is taking on a new form,” Sanford said. “But as people keep coming the plans can continue to change.”
The three-story Dakota West Credit Union building is undergoing construction now, and it seems large for Main Street. However, when the seven-story office building goes in next door it will appear tiny. Both of these buildings are in the plans for 2014.
It may be frustrating for the community to deal with the changes, but it’s impossible to please every single person.
“We have been into this expansion for almost three-and-a-half years now,” City Planner Curt Moen said. “The ‘land-grabbers’ have come and gone. Now they finally intend to develop instead of flipping the land. We can finally get past the ‘ugly-duckling’ stage and see more rooftops.”
It all sounds fine and dandy until the nitty-gritty comes out. It hasn’t been a cake-walk getting to this point. The city continues to face some issues.
Water supply and sewer lines are necessities. In the past, there has been plenty of water for the city, but with an increasing population, there is a demand for more. And with that also comes sewer.
“Where are we going to get water?” Sanford asked. “That is the million dollar question. It should be no problem, but it’s a matter of getting money from the state.”
Water and sewer lines have been installed extending two to three miles in each direction out of Watford City. All of that was done in the last two years, according to Sanford.
“The state hasn’t seen our need for the money,” Moen said. “We need the financial ability to deal with new needs and housing.”
Sanford pointed out that with a cap on the water supply, there would be no choice but to have a ceiling on the population as well.
“There is extra money at the state level, but we have to beg for it,” Sanford said. “We only get eight percent of our tax money back - a fourth of what we should get.”
Watford is hurting financially. Yes the city is growing and yes the population has increased by the thousands, but the money is not there. Sanford said another topic being pushed under the rug is the streets. Not only do some roads need maintenance, but other roads still need to be built - meaning they don’t exist yet, but with new building needs to come streets.
Hunter’s Run and The Crossing, both to be commercial and residential sites, will be capable of housing about 4,000 people each along with having multiple store fronts.
Because the city isn’t getting sufficient funds to cover the cost of the roads, they are forced to tack that cost on to the developers, who then raise the price of the housing and retail sites in order to make a profit. This is a lose-lose situation for everyone involved. Not only is the city crunching for money, so are the families and individuals in the community.
“New street costs are being pushed to development, which in turn forces the cost of houses to go up,” Sanford said. “Eventually, our community will go into debt.”
The bypass, just south of town, is scheduled for construction this summer. The highways inside the city limits are planned to be done within the next two years. And many residential and commercial buildings will go up, including the seven-story office building on north Main with possible parking below.
“We want to attract the service industry and big business people,” Moen said. “Watford will gain professional people along with the oil industry. Right now we lack these things and not to mention, we are short on health care.”
Also coming in 2014 is the new hospital and clinic. It will be located just east of the Good Shepherd Home in Watford. There is also a proposed school facility building, which is to be located in the Fox Hills subdivision.
With growth comes positive and negative effects. There is no doubt going to be an increase in the cost of living. Some families may have already experienced that negative aspect.
“People living on a fixed income have probably noticed the higher food prices,” Sanford said.
“The cost of living has been going up in the past couple years,” Moen said. “And business men are taking advantage of it.”
As the saying goes, “give a little, get a little,” Watford and its residents are working through these changes as a team.
“We want people to come and stay here,” Moen said. “Every time we have an influx of people, we gain some great people.”