Dickinson is a growing gal, as officials keep reminding us at The Dickinson Press several times. According to U.S. Census counts, the city gained a little less than 2,000 residents from 1980 to 2010. Those aren’t exploding numbers by any means.
However, the last two years have been, some would say a little crazy. Dickinson went from serving 17,787 to about 22,000 by the end of January, City Administrator Shawn Kessel said. Building permits are coming in at record rates. March presented $36.11 million in approved permit values, beating out Williston’s amount for the first quarter of the year.
Things don’t seem to be slowing down. The last three Dickinson Planning and Zoning Commission meetings yielded more than five hours of work for commissioners (a March meeting left me sitting in the room for almost seven hours, which gives me plenty of time to type). As I sit typing my stories, several questions pop up on a regular basis. How many units do you plan to build? How many units did we approve today? Are we allowing too many R-3 (high-density) units? Officials have to, and do, wonder if they are building too much housing.
It is hard to plan when the City of Dickinson doesn’t know how many people are coming to stay for good and many are just coming for a few years. That’s why it hired North Dakota State University to conduct a population study. People, including me, sat in their seats at Dickinson City Hall during the May 7 City Commission meeting, ready to hear how many people would come to their town in the next few years. 5,000? 10,000? Could Dickinson double in size?
You can about imagine the surprise on everyone’s face when Mayor Dennis Johnson alerted us that, despite what the agenda memo said, there would be no estimations but rather an analysis of what could happen. NDSU officials said the city would have to provide the correct ratio of temporary to permanent housing. The commission thanked them, stating they had done what they were supposed to do.
If that is indeed what the city asked them to do, then that is fine. However, the city needs to figure out what it will need to build, how much it will need to build and when to stop building. Planning and Zoning Commission Chairman Earl Abrahamson asked me how are we supposed to know when to quit if we don’t have those numbers? He stated he was disappointed in the presentation, like others were. Even if they can get a ratio, it would be better than sitting in the dark.
It is not likely that Dickinson will have to quit building anytime soon short of a nuclear meltdown. The approval of a 3,000-unit crew camp may help tip the balance in its favor. However, the sooner Dickinson can get these numbers the better. If we get too light, rents will still be too high to stay. If we get too top heavy, we’ll fall straight into decreasing property valuations. As City Commissioner Klayton Oltmanns said, “If you think people get mad that their property values are going up each year, wait until you get to the flip side and they are going down because we overbuilt.”
Kadrmas, Lee and Jackson Engineering of Dickinson, who are working on the city’s comprehensive plan, are on the City Commission schedule Monday with population projections. Kessel will also present NDSU’s request to extend its population projection study by three months (It was to be completed by the end of the month). Either way, the meeting should bring us one step closer to finding out who’s here for the long haul and who’s here with the mobile force. Keep watching The Dickinson Press for updates on the future of Dickinson.