Growing the Bakken Village out of prairie

By Chris Hanson | May 23, 2013

Thirty-six years after the incorporation of North Dakota’s youngest town, Lincoln, Williams County could witness the organization of the newest municipality, Bakken Village. Sitting along the banks of the Little Muddy River and bustling U.S. Highway 2, north of Williston, the village will be the location for single-family residences, medium-density housing, a downtown district, light industrial zones and general commercial areas.

South Dakota’s FourFront Design Inc., a company of engineers, architects and surveyors, successfully created, planned and incorporated the town of Summerset, S.D., in 2005.  Bryan Vulcan, president, says the two projects, while similar in many ways, have one major difference. Summerset’s location between Rapid City and Sturgis required more public meetings to establish a consensus among the people already living there. With fewer people, no prior significant development and harmony among the existing neighbors, Bakken Village is a “clean slate” for developers, planners and land owners, Vulcan says.

“If you go back to how towns and cities were created throughout the western United States,” Vulcan explains, “there were very few people that would incorporate and more people would move in there over time.”  He adds Bakken Village will follow that model, instead of waiting for development and then trying to foster unity with a higher population. “Starting out with a clean slate from day one with a small group of people that have built that consensus is much easier.”

Vulcan explains the incorporation process requires thorough research and legislative work, including engineering and market studies, a financial analysis, sustainability planning, draft incorporation plans and other information needed by the county commissioners who must approve the project. The incorporation plan details how the city will handle streets, roads, utilities, law enforcement and city governance in accordance with North Dakota statutes. Sustainability planning refers to drafting recommended ordinances, Vulcan explains, so the city has beginning set of rules, plus matching utility and street access. If the city is not successful, tax revenues would still go to the county for infrastructure maintenance costs.

If Bakken Village’s incorporation plan is approved by the county, Vulcan expects the results will be similar to those seen at Summerset. “Watching the city government form—the mayor getting elected for the first time, the councilmen going through initial council meetings and establishing ordinances and how they want to run their city—was a beautiful example of democracy at work,” Vulcan says. He expects community leaders will first hire a finance officer or clerk, and then make plans to employ a maintenance expert, police officers and other officials as Bakken Village grows. 

“The overall vision for the city is a place where people can purchase single-family homes that are affordable, that are sustainable such that people are going to stay there and ride out the ups and downs of the oil economy,” Vulcan explains. “We think creating lots of apartments is not the way to go. Single family homes, where people invest and can afford them in good and bad economies, are going to keep the city populated.”

“We have a vision for a downtown area with a main street, mixed use retail and commercial activities going on and some residential,” he adds. Plans include some light industrial and commercial areas, but mostly family-friendly areas. “There’s green space, parks, trails, areas set aside for schools, and areas set aside for specific niches, such as senior living and veteran neighborhood.”

Vulcan hopes that in 20 years the Bakken village will become “a vibrant, well-run, well-maintained clean community that people can be safe and comfortable in.” The Williams County Commission was expected to consider Bakken Village’s incorporation application in early June 2013.

Author: Chris Hanson
Staff Writer, The Bakken magazine