The mostly senior residents of the planned Williamsburg development in downtown Bismarck will enjoy a very pedestrian-friendly environment: Jobs, shops and other services are only a short walk away. This is because the developers wisely recognized the value of developing the project on vacant property with easy access to all the amenities of downtown.
The 40-unit town-home community is a welcome change from much of the scattered development on the outskirts of the city. By redeveloping vacant property near downtown, the developers have managed to avoid destroying open space or farm land. And by locating the development near the city park, residents will be able to enjoy green space close to home.
Advocates of smart growth usually argue that building within city limits is key to slowing suburban sprawl. But the Southport development in Bismarck demonstrates that this type of development is not always a good idea -- not when homes are built on fill and rock that used to be wetlands.
Though the homes in the Southport project are adjacent to downtown, these homes also sit in a section of the Missouri River known as the Garrison Reach -- the longest free-flowing stretch of the Missouri from the Garrison Dam to St. Louis. Now, due to the pressures caused by Southport and other developments, this incredible natural resource is threatened. And by filling in the wetlands associated with the river's floodplain, the developers are virtually guaranteeing increased flooding in Bismarck and communities downstream.
The environmental concerns extend beyond flooding and the impact on the river. By limiting the development to just housing, with no workplace opportunities and only one small convenience store, residents will be forced to drive to work or to run errands. There is a bicycle lane on the community's two-lane access road, but without additional access to buses, light rail or safe pedestrian routes, many residents will have no choice but to drive.
Successful waterfront development projects seek to revitalize communities through improved economic opportunities, while protecting and enhancing natural resources. This project does not even come close to passing that test.