by Eric Hagen
The Andover City Council Tuesday night took another step toward reconstructing and widening South Coon Creek from Crosstown to Round Lake boulevards this summer by approving plans and specifications and ordering bids for the project.
As long as the council awards a construction contract in May, the road project will happen between June and September and the owners of 70 parcels will discover in October how much they will pay for this work.
Only two residents spoke at the public hearing, but many more filled out comment sheets after neighborhood informational meetings hosted by the city in September 2011 and January 2012.
The issues that concerned most residents was the fact that the road would be widened from 32 feet to 37 feet, there would be a five-foot shoulder on each side to accommodate bikers and walkers and the amount of the assessments especially for owners or rural lots.
Most of the public hearing consisted of the council and city staff answering questions they saw in the comment sheets or e-mails.
Michael and Lily Beaupre wrote on a comment sheet that they agree that the road needs to be repaired, but asked the council to delay the project due to economy and continue filling potholes.
“Although we enjoy walking, jogging and biking along South Coon Creek Drive, we are concerned about the additional cost of providing the bike/pedestrian paths,” they wrote.
On the other hand, Peter and Ellen Fastner wrote on a comment sheet that they want to see the project done.
“This is a much needed improvement,” they wrote. “Pulling from both sides of the street is fair. Foot traffic is increasing and safety is a concern.”
At this point, City Engineer and Public Works Superintendent David Berkowitz is estimating the project will cost $2,868,570. The combined assessments for the 70 parcel owners is $355,690. The city will cover the remaining costs.
City Administrator Jim Dickinson said the state gas tax revenue will pay a significant portion of the project.
Minnesota cities with a population over 5,000 receive an annual allocation from the Minnesota Department of Transportation based on population and the road construction needs of a city, Berkowitz said.
Dickinson said the city’s general and road and bridge funds would be helping to pay for this project because other people in the community use the road. The water fund and sewer fund, which are financed by residents who have these city utilities, will also be a funding source.
Berkowitz said a one-foot wide water main is being added along South Coon Creek Drive from Crosstown Boulevard to 143rd Avenue to provide back-up service for the west side of town.
One of the heavily discussed issues that came out of the neighborhood meetings was whether the necessity of having five-foot bike lanes on each side of the road. The lanes for vehicles will be 12 feet each, according to Berkowitz. To be fair, the city will be widening the road an average of 2.5 feet on each side, although Berkowitz said that there will be some areas where three feet will be taken from one side and two feet from another side.
The council included this pedestrian path along South Coon Creek Drive in the comprehensive plan. In a Feb. 15 e-mail to a resident, Berkowitz said that this route is one of the few east-west corridors in the city and this connection would link to existing paths on Crosstown and Round Lake boulevards.
Don Brisse wrote in a Feb. 9 e-mail to Berkowitz that his family has never seen enough bicycle or pedestrian traffic along South Coon
Creek Drive to justify a path, and his family has lived in that home since October 1991. In a later e-mail, he questioned why the path could not be on one side of the road. He thought the land north of Coon Creek could get a trail when that area develops.
Some residents wanted the path and said they see plenty of people using the street. April Conforti wrote on a comment sheet that she is in favor of a path and said a lot of people use the street for exercise.
“Please widen the road,” Tom Bollig wrote on a comment sheet. “Safety for pedestrians is extremely important…Just tonight I almost hit three pedestrians. Every morning I watch extremely close for walkers because I’ve almost hit them due to the blinding sunshine.”
At the council meeting and in a response e-mail to Brisse, Berkowitz said that the project cost and impact would have been far greater had the path only been on one side of the road.
State law requires bikers to go with the flow of traffic while pedestrians should walk against the traffic, he said.
According to Berkowitz, if a path is only on one side of the road, the state requires a physical separation from the roadway and this could be accomplished by putting the trail off the road or adding a concrete barrier or landscaping between the trail and road. The shared path would have to be eight feet wide.
“All these options were looked at and considered by the engineering department and the city council and the option with the least amount of impacts to the project corridor, which is in turn the most cost effective (and cheapest) to build while providing the pedestrian access was chosen,” Berkowitz wrote in an e-mail to Brisse.
Rural assessment higher
Sue Doll lives on a rural five-acre lot and may be assessed $7,830, according to Berkowitz’ current estimate. There are 32 parcel owners, including Doll, facing this assessment. On the other hand, there are 38 parcel owners who could be assessed $2,770 because they live on smaller urban lots.
The distinction the city made was that an urban lot has city utilities and a rural lot does not. Berkowitz said simple math explains why the rural lot assessment is so much higher than the urban lot assessment. The rural lots have more length along the road and there are fewer lots to divide the costs.
During Tuesday night’s public hearing, Doll questioned this logic because she feels people without city utilities have a lesser impact on the city than those with city sewer and water. She has read articles in the city newsletter encouraging people to not put t-shirts down the drain, for example. She said rural lot residents are using the road the same as the urban lot residents and other people in the city.
“How am I getting three times more benefit than the person up the road,” Doll said.
Everyone should pay an equal amount, she said. If that had occurred, the assessment per lot could have been $5,081.29.
Councilmember Julie Trude’s counter-argument was that it costs more for the city to pave in front of a wider lot than a smaller lot, so therefore residents with larger rural lots should pay more.
“There’s certain costs that go with that rural lifestyle,” Trude said. “With five acres, you certainly have a lot of property for a road to run by compared to someone that has a 75-foot lot.”
The council looked at alternative assessment methods such as charging based on how long the front of a property is next to the road, she said.
However, Councilmember Sheri Bukkila said properties on the road curves are on pie-shaped lots that do not have a lot of land along the road, but widen as the property goes away from the road.
Other properties have much more front footage, so the decision was made to split the assessments into rural and urban classifications, she said. The urban lots are on the west and east side of the project area, while the rural lots are in the middle.
“We couldn’t come up with a solution that was perfect for everyone,” Bukkila said.
Eric Hagen is at firstname.lastname@example.org