City selects direction for 15th St. project
Property owners air concerns with assessment
November 28. 2012 7:00AM
After a night of deliberation with property owners and other interested parties, the Dell Rapids City Council adopted a plan for the second phase* of 15th Street improvements at its Nov. 19 meeting.
Ron Welbig, a 37-year resident of his Garfield Avenue property, asked that the councilors put themselves in his position, questioning the danger of the Garfield Avenue/15th Street intersection.
Councilor Craig Lauritzen said that the improvements would improve traffic flow to the school, while councilor Carrie Testerman said it was a tough call, ultimately stating the project would be worth the improvements in the long-term.
Councilor Keith DeLange said that the assessment’s portioning over time would cause him to agree with the improvements, and councilor Mark Downs agreed that traffic flow would be improved between the schools on the north end of town.
Councilor Dave Sommerfeld asserted that he could see from both sides of the issue, adding that if he’d been in the property owner’s shoes, he wouldn’t want to pay for the improvements. Councilor Jim Rueckert, one of the assessed property owners on State Avenue, said that though he’s not pleased about paying an assessment, he thinks it’s the right thing to do for the city in the long run.
And rounding out the perspective discussion was councilor Todd Wiebenga, who stressed the importance of improving safety at the intersection in question, due to its proximity to the high school and low visibility.
State Avenue property owner Linn Kienast wondered if the 15th Street improvements would’ve happened at all if the elementary school bond hadn’t been approved and why these changes weren’t included on said bond issue.
“I have no problem with the (Garfield/15th) intersection being changed, but I think it’s a city issue,” she said. “To me, it’s so much penalizing for the people on 15th Street.”
Fellow property owner Greg Hansen questioned the urgency of the second phase of the project going through. “If the homeowners aren’t asking for it, why such a push to put this in?” he asked. “I wouldn’t say a word about this if I felt it was absolutely necessary.”
Mayor Scott Fiegen said that the second phase was intended as an extension of the improvements made over the past year to the western half of 15th Street. “It was really just a continuation of that project itself,” he said, “so that street doesn’t just stop.”
Proposed improvements on the section of 15th Street from Clark to Garfield include paving a 43-foot-wide street, as well as placing a five-foot-wide boulevard and four-foot-wide sidewalk.
In addition, some owners were unhappy with the plan to remove several dozen trees that would be affected by the construction.
“By taking down the trees, that’s also going to be decreasing our property values,” Erin Geurts said. She added that growing mature trees takes time.
Shelli Klein concurred with the tree concern, adding that the general assessment process is troubling. “I just have a huge problem with the city asking people to take out loans (to cover costs),” she said. “I just can’t get on board with it. I love this city (…) but I just don’t think it’s fair what’s being asked of us.”
Some assessed property owners expressed concern with paying for installation of new sidewalks and driveways when existing ones are new or in acceptable condition as is.
Dan Klein said that his driveway assessments total as high as $6,000, though he said his current driveway is within code and fairly new. He added he has no problem with installation of curb and gutter on his street, but he does take issue paying for unnecessary driveway installation.
Hansen said that though driveway improvements would be welcome on his properties, he would rather make and time those decisions himself. “My driveways need to be replaced, but I’d like to be able to decide what the price would be.”
Ultimately, several of those assessed asked about the possibility of splitting the project so that the State Avenue improvements could be made without being torpedoed by their being lumped in with 15th Street.
“I think the people on State are sick and tired of the river coming in,” Eric Geurts said.
City administrator Justin Weiland said that the state funding was granted as a packaged project, with the state loan for water main, sewer and storm sewer improvements from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources was awarded for the whole project plan.
“The costs tend not to get any cheaper,” he said. “It’s probably delaying the inevitable.”
Project engineering rep Trent Bruce estimated that costs would increase between 20 and 25 percent if the plan was split. “The assessments wouldn’t necessarily go up by 20 percent, but the total project cost would go up by 20 percent,” he said.
Ending the conversation, local developer Mark Crisp urged the city to reconsider assessing people for pre-existing items.
“I think it’s a project that would be nice, (…) but if you have it already, you don’t have to pay it again,” he said. “It’s been city policy for years not to assess you for something that you already have. I think it’d be real simple to adopt that tonight.”
Wiebenga moved that the city cover 50 percent of the assessment cost, effectively cutting it in half. The motion was seconded by DeLange but failed by a 6-2 vote.
Downs then moved the city engineer evaluate approaches, driveways and sidewalks to determine if they meet code and can be removed or graded down from the assessment costs. Councilor Chad Andrews seconded and the motion passed with the aforementioned condition.
Upon questioning from those present at the meeting, Weiland outlined the process from here on out, saying that there will be a 20-day referendum period for petitions upon publication in the legal newspaper. A petition would need 55 percent of front footage to eliminate the city’s ability to assess.
The project would be put out to bid in February or March, with construction slated for the spring through the late summer or fall. After completion, the council would approve an assessment roll, allowing owners 30 days to determine their repayment method.
*15TH STREET PROJECT
--The project entails continued work on 15th Street taking up where the first phase left off at the Clark Avenue intersection through to Garfield Avenue. It also would include infrastructure upgrades to State Avenue, between Thresher Drive and 12th Street, and Garfield Avenue, between 15th and 12th streets.
--The project includes the addition of concrete street, concrete curb and gutter, sidewalks and driveway approaches and the installation of sanitary sewer services and water services, concrete valley gutters, asphalt concrete deposit, detective warning panels and permanent vegetation and erosion control.
--Based on the engineer estimates, the total assessable portion of the $2.8 million project is $207,070, with assessments assigned based on front footage of each lot benefiting from the installments, paid over 10 years. State funding would supply about $625,000 of the total cost.