Bismarck Takes on Infill Challenge

New plan helps guide development within existing city footprint

by Will Hutchings

As the City of Bismarck looks to manage orderly, outward expansion, a key strategy is to guide some city growth inward.  Recently, the city adopted an Infill and Redevelopment Plan in its continuing effort to guide development within the existing footprint of the city, a key growth strategy advocated by Mayor Mike Seminary in his “footprint initiative.” The purpose of the plan is to facilitate high-quality infill and redevelopment that enhances quality of life, economic vitality, and fiscal responsibility. The plan complements the City’s Growth Management Plan, adopted in 2014.

The plan is the result of a nearly year-long process, and was led by an advisory committee consisting of architects, landscape architects, realtors, developers, and staff representatives from the City of Bismarck, the Bis-Man Transit Board, local school districts, and the Bismarck Parks and Recreation Department.  Bismarck City planner Daniel Nairn, AICP,  was the project manager. Will Hutchings, another Bismarck planner, assisted with the plan.
 
“Addressing growth in existing areas is a challenge,” Nairn said. “Planning staff and the advisory committee looked carefully for those win-win situations where greater urban density can be achieved while the character of neighborhoods are protected at the same time.”

 “Above all,” Nairn said, “we really tried to cast a positive vision, focusing on the kind of growth we want to encourage rather than what we want to prevent.”

A public open house introduced the plan to the public in November 2016. In addition, the plan was posted online to allow citizens an opportunity to review the draft and provide comments.

The plan is broken into three main sections: Introduction, Design Principles, and Implementation Strategies. 

We really tried to cast a positive vision, focusing on the kind of growth we want to encourage rather than what we want to prevent.
— Bismarck City Planner Daniel Nairn, AICP

The Introduction highlights the purpose of the plan, outlines goals, and addresses the merits behind infill growth of compact character. The Introduction also analyzes changes in the city’s density and spatial population distribution, and identifies some typical opportunities and challenges of inward growth. The plan recognizes the importance of preserving the unique character of Bismarck, but also identifies six regional peer communities, which have engaged with infill and redevelopment in a similar manner. They include the cities of Billings, MT; Rapid City, SD; Sioux Falls, SD; Grand Forks, ND; Fargo, ND; and Rochester, MN.

The Design Principles section establishes eight principles to improve the quality of design for infill and redevelopment projects. These eight principles are not intended to be regulatory but are recommended best practices that may be applied to promote high quality infill and redevelopment projects that aim to preserve and enhance the character of the City of Bismarck.

  1. Formation and Growth of Complete Neighborhoods
  2. Integration of Civic and Open Space into Development
  3. Provisions for Mixed-Use Development of Appropriate Scale
  4. Preservation and Enhancement of Architectural and Historical Character
  5. Building at the Scale of the Pedestrian
  6. Fostering a Network of Connected Streets and Paths
  7. Mitigation of the Impact of Parking on Public Space
  8. Design to Allow Adaptation to Future Conditions

The City of Bismarck also hired David Witham, AICP, of Civitecture Studio, who is an architect and urban designer with extensive knowledge of high quality urban design.  Mr. Witham applied the eight design principles to three hypothetical demonstration scenarios to illustrate context-sensitive and appropriate infill and redevelopment. The scale of each demonstration project varies. The first, titled “Uptown Center,” examines the large-scale redevelopment of an existing big box store located in north Bismarck into a new mixed use, pedestrian-friendly area with a regional parking approach. The second, titled “The New Galleria,” examines the infill of a vacant lot and redevelopment of an existing public parking structure in the downtown core into a residential complex with active ground floor retail and a new joint-parking structure. The third, titled “Gentle and Lean Infill,” illustrates how higher intensity residential may be implemented into an existing residential zoning district while maintaining the proper scale and appearance with surrounding single family residences and mitigating the visual impact of parking from the public realm.


Demonstration Scenarios

The application of the design principles of this Infill and Redevelopment Plan will inevitably take on a different form every time they are applied. There simply are too many detailed factors that must be considered with the existing conditions of specific sites, market feasibility, and interests of the local citizens to expect broad conformity to any set of standards. Three demonstration scenarios are presented to illustrate how the design principles may be applied to specific sites in the City of Bismarck. These designs are purely hypothetical and for the purpose of illustration only. The inclusion of these sites does not imply any endorsement by the property owners, nor does it imply any expectation on behalf of the City that infill and redevelopment will occur on these sites according to the designs of this plan. They are presented as an example of how various types of places may be developed in ways that will benefit the City as a whole, as well as a study of the potential that exists given realistic constraints.

“Uptown center” is a large-scale and high-intensity redevelopment project. Location is a fifteen acre site along the east side of State Street north of Interstate 94. The site is currently owned by two separate property owners. The primary use on the site is a 107,000 square foot single-story retail building that was built in 1971, but the majority of the area is a surface parking lot or undeveloped land behind the shopping building. The land is relatively flat with one access point onto State Street, and four access points onto the lower-volume Interstate Avenue.

“Uptown center” is a large-scale and high-intensity redevelopment project. Location is a fifteen acre site along the east side of State Street north of Interstate 94. The site is currently owned by two separate property owners. The primary use on the site is a 107,000 square foot single-story retail building that was built in 1971, but the majority of the area is a surface parking lot or undeveloped land behind the shopping building. The land is relatively flat with one access point onto State Street, and four access points onto the lower-volume Interstate Avenue.

“The New Galleria” is a medium-scale urban infill and redevelopment project. Location is a vacant site and existing Galleria parking ramp at the corner of Main Avenue and North 7th Street in downtown Bismarck. Currently owned and operated by the Bismarck Parking Authority, the undeveloped site is being used temporarily as a surface parking lot. The Galleria parking ramp was built several decades ago, and ongoing maintenance expenses are high. The ramp provides 282 parking spots, and the temporary lot an additional approximately 50 spots.

“The New Galleria” is a medium-scale urban infill and redevelopment project. Location is a vacant site and existing Galleria parking ramp at the corner of Main Avenue and North 7th Street in downtown Bismarck. Currently owned and operated by the Bismarck Parking Authority, the undeveloped site is being used temporarily as a surface parking lot. The Galleria parking ramp was built several decades ago, and ongoing maintenance expenses are high. The ramp provides 282 parking spots, and the temporary lot an additional approximately 50 spots.

“Gentle and Lean Infill” is a small-scale residential infill project. It is intended to be applied incrementally within the traditional grid of the City of Bismarck that was continued by most plats until around 1940. The blocks are uniformly 300 feet by 300 feet, and individual lots are typically either 50 or 35 feet wide. Alleys may or may not be present. Most of these neighborhoods are filled in to a high degree, although there remain a few vacant lots or opportunities to redevelop through “gentle infill” that fits the character of the neighborhood.

“Gentle and Lean Infill” is a small-scale residential infill project. It is intended to be applied incrementally within the traditional grid of the City of Bismarck that was continued by most plats until around 1940. The blocks are uniformly 300 feet by 300 feet, and individual lots are typically either 50 or 35 feet wide. Alleys may or may not be present. Most of these neighborhoods are filled in to a high degree, although there remain a few vacant lots or opportunities to redevelop through “gentle infill” that fits the character of the neighborhood.


The Implementation Strategies section provides a set of key strategies that are intended to support the vision of the plan. There are 24 strategies that serve as guidance and recommendations for future actions that the city may take to support the Infill and Redevelopment Plan. Some of these strategies include allowing setbacks to match the existing context, establishing modified parking requirements to allow shared parking and set criteria for parking reductions, and creating a new traditional neighborhood zoning district that allows for smaller lot sizes, lessens setback requirements, and provides greater options for different housing types.

Nairn notes that the plan also led to a lot of discussion about design, which was bolstered by the demonstration projects.  

To view the plan visit: http://www.bismarcknd.gov/DocumentCenter/View/27981


Will Hutchings is a planner for the City of Bismarck. He graduated from Portland State University with a Bachelor’s degree in Architecture with a focus in Urban Design/Planning. Will is also the co-editor of the NDPA Newsletter. A three-year Bismarck resident, he is originally from eastern Montana.


Article republished from the NDPA SPRING newsletter 2017 in the June 2017 Western Planner

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