The Blaine City Council drew applause from Jefferson Street neighborhood residents at its May 1 meeting after the council directed city staff to place a sidewalk on the west side rather than the east side of this street as staff had suggested.
Councilmember Kathy Kolb, one of the two council representatives for this area of Blaine, told residents as they were leaving to share this story to illustrate that city hall’s goal is to listen to residents and people can fight city hall.
Craig Thompson told Kolb and the rest of the council as he prepared to leave after the council’s unanimous vote that the he is very happy with the process and thanked members of the council, some who do not directly represent his neighborhood, for either visiting or talking with him over the phone about the concerns he and his neighbors had.
Thompson said he told other residents before this council meeting that “we’re not trying to fight city hall. We’re trying to engage city hall.”
The council approved a trail on the west side of Jefferson Street from 125th Avenue to the city’s border with Ham Lake.
The next step is for the city engineering department to finalize the plans and specifications for the reconstruction of Jefferson Street and to vote on a bid.
The actual assessment amount will not be set until this fall, according to City Engineer Jean Keely. Currently, the projection is $2,752.40 for each household with an address along Jefferson Street and $10.99 per front foot for the Good Shepherd Covenant Church.
Despite having the Bengal Drive access on Jefferson Street, Blaine High School will not be assessed because the Anoka-Hennepin School District just has a road easement to Jefferson Street and does not own any property on Jefferson Street to be assessed, Keely said.
Keely said city staff had planned on finishing the bulk of the reconstruction project this summer, but work will likely spill into the next school year. The council had continued an April 3 public hearing on this project to May 1 to give residents more time to comment on the trail that will be constructed with this project.
One of the biggest concerns raised at the April 3 council meeting was the Blaine engineering department’s proposal to construct a new trail on the east side of Jefferson Street.
Keely said the east side of Jefferson Street and neighborhoods just to the east are more densely populated than the west side. In addition, a trail on the east side would mean kids going to Johnsville Elementary or Roosevelt Middle School would not have to cross Jefferson Street another time. There are two city parks east of Jefferson Street.
With the east side of the road having more density, this led to concerns about the trail affecting these properties by removing trees and potentially the power lines. Keely said she did not know how many power line poles would have needed to be moved had the trail been on the east side because the preliminary road reconstruction study did not get into that much detail.
The public hearing May 1 mostly drew residents from the east side of Jefferson Street. When Keely summarized four written comments the city had received before this meeting, there were two emails that came from residents on the west side of Jefferson Street. One said they support a sidewalk on the east side “for safety of area children.” One questioned the need for a sidewalk.
A couple of residents who live on the east side of Jefferson Street also questioned the need for a sidewalk at the May 1 council meeting.
“As far as I’m concerned, we don’t see kids coming up and down the road anymore like we used to,” said Constance Meyers, who has lived on the east side of Jefferson Street for 51 years. “Everyone has a car or they get picked up.”
Councilmembers Wes Hovland, Russ Herbst and Kolb believe neighborhood residents would see many more pedestrians along this road if there was a trail. Kolb said the city council’s vision has been to connect Blaine to other communities with regional trails and she does not want to lose site of that.
“Every time we put a trail in, they are used,” Kolb said.
There is a trail on the south side of Main Street. When Bunker Lake Boulevard continues to be widened to four lanes all the way to Jefferson Street, the county will have a trail throughout this corridor. Keely said it would be up to Ham Lake to complete the Jefferson Street trail between Bunker Lake Boulevard and its border with Blaine.
Herbst said when he drives through the neighborhood, having a trail on the west side is the “common sense” choice. Kolb and Councilmember Dave Clark indicated their first choice would have been to have the trail on the east side because of the denser population on that side. Kolb said she would like to see pedestrian crossing signs on Jefferson Street that flash and post speed limits of vehicles going past.
Councilmembers pointed out that Municipal State Aid dollars that come from state gas tax revenue will pay for the Jefferson Street trail and would not be funded by assessments.
“We have kids and I would love to see a sidewalk,” said Lois Ziebol, who lives on the east side of the road. “I would rather have them on a sidewalk if a car is veering off versus having them on the side of a road.”
Eric Hagen is at firstname.lastname@example.org