Blaine council ponders comprehensive right of way ordinance

Blaine City Council members want a comprehensive right of way ordinance to regulate bus stop benches and other items placed within public right of way.

Robert Therres, public services manager, discussed the ordinance with city leaders during a March 15 workshop as a response to a recent complaint.

Private utilities and sprinkler systems, landscaping boulders and retaining walls, newspaper vending machines, church signs, mailboxes, driveway work or utility hookups and repairs and construction would be addressed in the draft ordinance, Therres said.

The council unanimously agreed change was needed.

According to Therres, city staff recently learned a bus stop bench was installed at the corner of 89th Avenue and Polk Street.

The bench in question was placed on a pedestrian trail within the right of way by a private company.

A nearby property owner complained, Therres said, and eventually, the bus bench was removed from the site.

Therres said bus benches in public right of way have been installed without permission from the city or Anoka County, so it’s currently unknown how many of the benches are located within public right of way.

In addition, Therres said no determination has been made if any of these benches pose a crash hazard to motorists, block visibility or otherwise interfere with public movement and safety.

The benches are owned by private companies which use them for advertising.

Metro Transit and the Anoka County Traveler may have agreements with these private companies for the benches at various stops, but Therres said the city of Blaine isn’t party to the agreements.

The city’s zoning ordinance does not have any provisions to deal with the advertising signs on bus benches within the public right of way, but billboard signs located on private property would not be allowed under the current zoning ordinance, he said.

According to Therres, staff research indicates many area cities have adopted right of way ordinances to regulate private usages of the public right of way, including bus benches.

Blaine does have written policies governing specific usages such as private utilities or driveways, but this does not provide an all-encompassing method to ensure the integrity of public streets and utilities, and keep the public right of way in good repair and free from unnecessary encumbrances or hazards, Therres said.

Councilmember Katherine Kolb said during discussion March 15 it was a good idea for the city to be proactive regarding the issue.

Councilmember Dick Swanson urged caution in drafting the ordinance, specifically mentioning sprinklers and mailboxes.

Therres said the city did receive one positive phone call from a person who wanted to say thanks because a bus bench had been placed.

City Manager Clark Arneson provided background about the proposed right of way ordinance in a follow-up interview.

The call for a draft right of way ordinance is a basic council directive, he said.

“You can go to virtually any city that has Metropolitan Transit bus service and Universal Bench Corp. has been providing leased areas for benches” he said. “Recently, we’ve had an increase in the number of benches that have been put in certain locations without authorization.”

Tim Hennagir is at [email protected]