Cruising Around Williston

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Everyone we meet with is over-booked and stretched thin. We’ve learned that there’s pretty much a shortage of everything, except oil, in the Bakken; time, workers, food, housing, building materials, etc. Yet, each time we reach out to a new connection they are eager to meet. People want to share their experiences in this crazy place, and they also want to hear our ideas. The developer we met with on Friday morning offered to take us on an excursion around Williston that afternoon. So after meeting with a local architect, we met up with the developer, and hopped in his company truck for a tour.

First of all, this man was an incredible multi-tasker. I’m pretty sure he put out a few fires, and closed some multi-million dollar deals, all while entertaining us with his vision of the future and his criticisms of the current situation. We started in the north of Williston at his Bakken outpost where he stays with three other migrant workers. Much of the growth in Williston is happening in this area along one of the main routes into town. The highway is festooned with new metal buildings and conspicuously empty lots. There is little rhythm to the outcroppings of industrial, commercial and residential buildings. As the new development started to slow down and give way to open land, we approached his outpost.

Without any neighbors, the house was on its own amongst the drill pads and semi trucks. However, he quickly filled our minds, and our picture of the surrounding area, with one of the largest new-urbanist subdivisions I have ever seen. Inside his home he showed us site plans of a development that includes the property we were standing on. More than two million square feet of commercial and residential along curvy streets and neat landscaping. This was at least $800 M worth of development. According to him it will be done in 3-5 years.

He emphasized that good development in the area is about delivering the best product at the best price, which is all guided by the city’s master plan. His examples of good subdivisions were buildings that are priced competitively and connected to the city’s infrastructure with a strategy to separate apartments, multi-family, and single-family housing. He pointed out several ad-hoc man camps (he insisted that they’re called workforce housing, but man camp rolls off the tongue much better), examples of the type of development that happens without planning and foresight. These conditions were the impetus for the first ever draft of the Williston master plan in 2012.

Our tour was cut short by a lawsuit, but not before he showed us the industrial expansion in this area of town. The landscape in this area was marked by massive quarries and staging areas. Excavators were busy preparing new pads for the expansion of industry to the NE of town. Type 3 man camps popped up anywhere in between. The amount of money embedded in these operations was a reminder that this is all very real, but the ad-hoc distribution and pace of activity was like some kind of Bakken Sim City.

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