Blaine sets parameters for Lever St. assessments

Staff Writer
I cover the cities of Andover, Blaine and Ramsey. I have worked at ABC Newspapers since August 2007.

The Blaine City Council supports the idea of transforming Lever Street from a gravel road lined with septic and well properties to a paved road that has municipal sewer and water.

The Blaine City Council unanimously supported a motion to lower the assessments for property owners opposed to improvements on Lever Street.File photo
The Blaine City Council unanimously supported a motion to lower the assessments for property owners opposed to improvements on Lever Street.File photo

But it also said that property owners who oppose the project and face assessments in the tens of thousands of dollars should only have to pay half the costs over the next decade, but pay the full amount if they develop or sell the property.

On a unanimous vote July 13, the council voted to authorize city staff to prepare the plans and specifications for improvements to Lever Street between 125th and 132nd avenues.

Council Member Dave Clark said it wasn’t a matter of if, but when, the Lever Street project would happen.

But he said the council’s intent in 2000 when it adopted an assessment policy for northeast Blaine was that, “We didn’t want the city subsidizing private development and we didn’t want the homeowners to get forced out of their property.”

Mayor Tom Ryan and Council Member Dick Swanson are the only current members of the council who were serving in 2000.

According to City Engineer Jean Keely, the schedule is for the council to vote on construction bids this fall. Most work would take place in the spring and summer of 2018. The first year of a 10-year assessment period would be paid in 2019.

The estimated cost is $3.95 million. About 40 percent of this will be covered by the city’s sewer and water users via the Public Utilities Fund. About $250,000 will come from Paxmar for its share of intersection improvements at 125th Avenue and Lever Street.

The city of Blaine will front the rest of the costs by issuing general obligation bonds with the debt to be re-paid by the property owners.

While the largest property owners along Lever Street signed a petition asking for this project, there is a group in opposition.

Seven property owners representing nine parcels are in favor. Three of the proposed assessments for property owners are more than $350,000. This includes approximately $367,000 for the Anoka-Hennepin School District. This Blaine site and another one in Ramsey are two properties the school district hopes to build new elementary schools if voters approve a bond referendum this November.

Former Council Member Russ Herbst and his wife, Diana, also signed the petition and could be assessed approximately $385,000 combined for their two adjoining parcels on the east side of Lever Street.

John Peterson has 40 years of experience as a developer. He has done many projects in Blaine and elsewhere in the metro where farmland was turning into large housing developments. He has seen a lot of people get upset about change but said the city of Blaine has always treated everyone fairly.

Peterson lives in Roseville, but owns 37 acres along Lever Street. He said the council in 2000 decided that northeast Blaine would eventually transition from private septic and well systems to municipal sewer and water. During the last comprehensive plan update the city anticipated development along Lever Street would come in 2010, but the economic depression delayed projects.

“This project should not be a surprise to anyone,” Peterson said.

Six property owners for six parcels will only pay for the new street but can wait to pay any sewer and water charges until they decide to connect to these utilities. But because it costs much more to pave a gravel road than to repair an old asphalt street, the assessments were still in the tens of thousands of dollars.

Irene Tamblyn, who has lived along this road for 61 years, faced the prospect of a $150,000 assessment because her property line runs for 820 feet along Lever Street.

“Let the people that want it pay for it themselves,” she said.

Daniel Fish said he knows Lever Street will be paved and that development will come, but he echoed Irene Tamblyn’s message that developers should pay for the work. He pointed out that almost all the petitioners who want the upgrades are people who do not live in Blaine.

“It’s unfair to the people of Blaine to force a bill on them,” he said.

The Fish family was facing a projected assessment of about $61,000 even though they oppose the project, just because of the cost of paving Lever Street.

The Klass family also raised opposition to the prospect of a $53,000 assessment for a project they do not want.

“I’m requesting mercy and compassion from the council,” Molly Klass said.

Mayor Tom Ryan said the council is “trying to be fair.” He said everyone on Lever Street in the project area should at least pay for the new road.

The Northeast Area Assessment Plan Amendment the council approved in 2000 states that people who do not sign a petition, thus opposing a project, would not have to pay for anything until they hook up to city sewer and water. Council Member Andy Garvais asked why the city is not following its own policy.

Keely clarified that the city subsequently realized that state statute forbids the city from collecting deferred street assessments as part of sewer and water hook-up charges.

But the council still had the power to lower the assessment amount and it chose to only charge the non-petitioning residents half of the costs.

“I’m sitting here sick to my stomach looking at all these numbers,” said Council Member Julie Jeppson.

Council Member Jason King first suggested the 50 percent reduction. Garvais said the Fish family’s payments, for example, would drop from $820 to $410 monthly. He thought this was still too much money for someone opposed to the project to pay, so he asked for support from the council to ask city financing staff to estimate a 20-year bond repayment schedule. He got support from Clark and Jeppson, but not from the mayor and other three council members. The others were concerned about the prospect of setting precedence by having such a long re-payment period, which would come with higher interest payments.

Swanson tried to add a provision into Clark’s motion that anybody who changes their mind within the next five years would have to pay the full street assessment cost, but Keely said the city legally cannot increase assessments once the assessment roll is adopted, which is slated to happen in the fall of 2018.

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