Balancing our small town charm with steady growth - part 2 of 7

The Sandstone Hills addition on Lookout Mountain is located on property that used to be owned by the Homestake Mining Company. The company bought up land surrounding Spearfish in the 1930s in order to control the water rights of the creek to power the hydroelectric plants built to power the company’s operations.

Pioneer photo by Kaija Swisher

SPEARFISH — Looking at the numbers, Spearfish is growing younger as a community.

“In 2010, our median age was 36 years old; today it is 35.6 years of age,” Bryan Walker, executive director of Spearfish Economic Development Corporation (SEDC), said. “Overall, the age bracket which is growing the fastest is 21-34-year-olds, which could be why the Spearfish school system has seen an influx of new students. Since 2011, the school system has grown by nearly 250 new students.”  

Enrollment in the Spearfish School District was 1,962 in 2011; 2,045 in 2012; 2,143 in 2013; and 2,208 in 2014, according to SEDC.

“The Spearfish family is growing, and it’s immense, and it’s varied,” Spearfish City Councilman Doug Schmit said. He has lived in Spearfish for 25 years and been on the city council since 2000. He added that people have to remember that the same things that enticed them to come to Spearfish bring others, too.

“You got here, but you can’t shut the gate. You have to grow with what’s coming and welcome the new people that are coming,” Schmit said. “If you welcome the new people and work with the … people (who have lived in Spearfish for longer), you develop a good community mix, and a community is everything from the senior citizens to the 1-year-old in daycare. You’ve got to have the entire mix to have a community.”

Developer Joe Jorgensen has worked in Spearfish over the last 50 years, and he explained that the quality of life in Spearfish makes it a desirable place to live. This quality contributes to growth and the continual need for housing.

“If you’re going to continue to have kids, and we’re living to be 90 years old today, it takes more houses, more apartments, so everybody has to have a place to live,” he said.

Jorgensen explained that one of the first considerations a developer makes when determining whether or not to develop new property is: how close are city water and sewer services? Their location — and the cost it would take to move them if they are not in a suitable location for the development — are key factors, along with location, proximity to good roads, schools, etc. And of course, the availability of the land. Many of the subdivisions Jorgensen has developed are located on land once owned by the Homestake Mining Company.

But there’s no crystal ball to give the answers.

“How do you determine what to do and when? You ask a lot of questions,” Jorgensen said. “I know a lot of people do studies, you read the retail study … if you’re doing commercial, you do traffic counts.”

And the city also has master plans, documents based upon various studies and conversations to help guide the decision-making processes, approved and adopted by the city council to be used by the council to guide its decisions.

City Planner Jayna Watson explained that the city’s water and sewer master plans outline how the city would serve utilities should every parcel of land build out. The master transportation plan, adopted in 2011, maps out the street network and future street network. The comprehensive plan, adopted in 2013, is the document that describes what the city should look like when it’s built, directing some of the intangible nature of city development, Watson said.

“My goals are that we have the right standards in place that Spearfish continues to be a place where people want to live and move their businesses to,” she said.

“All these things are plans; plans can be changed,” Schmit said of the documents created to manage the city’s growth, describing them as “guides” to use — but as things change, the council has to make the best judgments for how to adapt to those changing needs of the city.

“It’s generally people interaction and a lot of common sense. That’s how I make my decisions,” he said, adding that first and foremost, he is a citizen who lives in Spearfish and enjoys helping his community.

“Especially now where the city is growing so much, we’ve got all these developments here; we’ve got the pressures from the old town and we have the pressures from the new town, the new people here and the old people here, and trying to mix the two together and still keep the environment that is Spearfish — that is so important,” Schmit said.

And of course, there are city ordinances that also provide standards for how the city has to be built.

“The public has an expectation of building safety,” Tom Paisley, building official, said.

Building plans must be submitted and reviewed for code compliance, and after plans are approved, inspectors perform inspections for structural, HVAC, fire, and plumbing during the construction phase, before the final inspection prior to occupancy of the building.

There are also agencies in place to consider the larger impact a building project could have on its surroundings, community, and natural environment. The building department works with the planning and zoning, engineering and flood plain departments, as well as the State Electrical Commission, State Plumbing Commission, State Health Department, State Fire Marshall and South Dakota Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).

The city council adopts and amends building codes; and the city currently uses the 2012 edition of the International Building Code, International Residential Code, International Fire Code and International Property Maintenance Code, which are updated every three years. The city plans to adopt the 2015 edition of the codes soon, Paisley added.

Watson moved to Spearfish and took the job of city planner in 2004, and she said one of the major changes she’s seen is that the city does more complete reviews and holds on to plans longer, having a better idea of its infrastructure. In the past, the engineering community took care of those details, and the information may not have been kept in city records.

“That’s one of the biggest changes, just being able to manage and control the information concerning infrastructure that the city owns. The other change, obviously, is the growth,” she said, mentioning the annexation of the Reserve on the Old Belle Road, developments along McGuigan Road and Highway 85. “There’s been a lot of territory added to the city.”

In 2013, the city annexed 206 acres, 160 in the Vieland property off of Exit 17 and 46 in the Kellem Lane property, on the east side of U.S. Highway 85 north of the city’s wastewater treatment plant. The city limits currently cover 16 square miles.

Each of the projects brings considerations.

“As we grow, there are different needs for different projects. Every project has its own unique signature for what it’s trying to do,” Watson said.

At the same time that new infrastructure is built to serve new building projects, older infrastructure ages and must be maintained, too.

“Any time you grow, you are adding more layers of infrastructure on,” Watson said. “You can’t just keep adding to your community and not reinvest in new infrastructure.”

See tomorrow’s Pioneer for the next installment of the series.

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