Developers turned off by Williams County subdivision timeout

WILLISTON, N.D. – While several speakers touted the need for more housing here Wednesday at an economic development summit, one speaker said the county is so backlogged with proposals it’s taking a six-month timeout.

More than 200 people attended the Williston Summit, focused on educating investors, developers and others about the opportunities in the Bakken.

Dan Kalil, chairman of the Williams County Commission, told participants the county is taking a six-month timeout on approving major subdivisions.

The county had been so short-staffed it developed a six- to eight-month backlog of applications, Kalil said. They hired an outside firm and a professional planner to raise the level of expertise, but county staff need time to update old zoning ordinances and do the proposals justice, Kalil said.

“Unless we take a timeout, we’re just compounding the problems,” Kalil said. “We have to do it right.”

Several developers in attendance expressed frustration about the timeout.

“This is no time to put on the brakes,” said developer Jesse Evert of Evercorp in Blaine, Minn. “I think that would exacerbate the problem.”

Minneapolis developer Jay Nord said he planned to submit a preliminary plat next week for a 75-unit high-quality single-family neighborhood.

While many speakers emphasized that North Dakota is business friendly, Williams County seems to be sending a message that it’s closed for business, Nord said.

“Projects have critical timing,” Nord said. “Many projects cannot survive a six-month delay.”

The city of Williston is not included in the county’s timeout. Williston Economic Development Director Tom Rolfstad said the city has permitted thousands of apartments and has several major single-family developments underway.

“We do have a tremendous housing machine going right now,” Rolfstad said

The city recently annexed more than 7½ square miles of property.

“We’ve opened up a lot of territory in the city for future growth,” Rolfstad said.

Peter Elzi, a principal with THK Associates who has done real estate market studies on the Bakken, said he believes there’s a pent-up demand for 13,000 housing units, with annual demand for 5,000 housing units.

“Even with the amount of construction that’s taking place, we still need more housing stock,” Elzi said.

Mercy Medical Center is adding a new 66-unit apartment building for staff, but still needs more affordable housing and single-family homes for health care workers, said CEO Matt Grimshaw.

“Housing is getting better but not fast enough,” Grimshaw said.

Some developers praised the cooperation they’re getting from community leaders in the Bakken.

Larry Nygard with Roers Development said a recent housing project approved in Williston was streamlined and efficient.

Joseph Ryan, founder of Oppidan Investment Co., which is adding major residential and commercial developments in the Bakken, said he’s done business all around the country and finds that North Dakota cities do more to help move projects through the process.

“We’re a Minnesota company but loving our time in North Dakota,” Ryan said.

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