Faces Of The Boom: Dynamic Growth Lures Planner Back To N.D.

Donald Kress, principal planner for Williston, N.D., explains an annexation proposal that would add 7.6 square miles to the city. Amy Dalrymple/Forum Communications

WILLISTON, N.D. – While working as a city planner in Los Angeles, Donald Kress kept fielding questions about his booming home state.

So when he saw an advertisement for a city planner in Williston, Kress decided to go where the action is.

“This is a very dynamic place if you’re a planner,” said Kress, a 49-year-old Fargo native. “Planning climates like this don’t come up that often.”

Kress worked as a technical director for community and educational theater in Fargo before deciding at age 41 to go to graduate school in California for city planning.

He then worked for six years planning subdivisions for the Los Angeles County Department of Regional Planning, a department of 180 people.

Kress had a stable job there, but development had slowed. He interviewed for the job of principal planner for Williston, a newly created position, and began working May 29.

“It’s a great opportunity personally to participate in the development of North Dakota,” Kress said.

As principal planner, Kress works with developers, evaluates projects and coordinates proposals as they work through the hearing process. Kress works with developers from all over the United States who have come to Williston because growth slowed in their home areas.

“Sometimes they’re a little surprised to see someone from L.A. County here,” Kress said.

Some have the perception that development in Williston is chaotic, but city leaders put an emphasis on planning, Kress said.

“Our intent is to preserve the community,” Kress said. “We’re not just nailing on subdivisions to a small town, we want to grow a community.”

Kress reports to Kent Jarcik, the director of planning and zoning, who focuses on
comprehensive planning and long-range projects. The department now has four people and continues to expand.

Occasionally Williston’s planning department will attract developers who don’t have much experience or resources but “they think it’s a get-rich-quick place,” Kress said.

Those developers quickly learn that land prices in Williston are high and the cost of construction is expensive, he said.

Kress is project manager for a proposal to annex 7.6 square miles to Williston, which is about 60 percent of the city’s current size. A public hearing on the proposal is scheduled for January.

Development moves a lot faster in Williston than other areas because bureaucracy is smaller and because decisions need to be made quickly, Kress said.

One of the major challenges to planning in Williston is getting accurate information, such as population estimates and projections and understanding employment demands of the oil industry, Kress said.

“Planning is such an important element to what’s happening in Williston,” Kress said.