UPDATE: Thomas Drive debate dominates Alexandria City Council meetingA proposal to pave a one-mile section of Thomas Drive in northeast Alexandria drew an hour’s worth of comments, mixed reaction from property owners and a 4-1 vote to proceed with the project during Monday night’s Alexandria City Council meeting.
By: Al Edenloff, Alexandria Echo Press
A proposal to pave a one-mile section of Thomas Drive in northeast Alexandria drew an hour’s worth of comments, mixed reaction from property owners and a 4-1 vote to proceed with the project during Monday night’s Alexandria City Council meeting.
The city has been looking into fixing up the flood-prone gravel road for more than three years.
The latest proposal is to widen and pave the road to a 24-foot urban design with two-feet-wide shoulders, grade the adjacent ditches and replace culverts to fix the drainage problems.
The project would take place on a 4,995-foot section of Thomas Drive from its intersection with South Oak Knoll Drive to its intersection with East Oak Knoll Drive.
Residents agree that the road is a problem. It turns into a muddy mess after a heavy rain, causing vehicles to get stuck or slide into the ditch.
The stumbling block is the cost it would take to upgrade the road.
The latest estimate puts the price at about $263,000. The city is proposing to use $60,000 from its stormwater utility fees but after adding in $20,619 in engineering costs and subtracting 20 percent of the total cost the city will cover, the assessments to the benefiting property owners amount to $195,540 or $6,980 per lot. Owners would have the option of paying the assessment up front or adding it to their property tax bill and paying it off over 10 years at a 7 percent interest rate.
At Monday night’s public hearing, property owner Tom Pappenfus said that owners in the area are still paying city water and sewer assessments on their properties and asking them to foot another $7,000 expense was too much to ask.
Another property owner, Marge Lusty, noted that even though property values are down, taxes keep going up. Because the economy is struggling and money is tight, she said the city should hold off on the Thomas Drive project until the other assessments are paid off in 2014. “Something should be done,” she said, “but now is not the time.”
Bob Pappenfus, who owns five lots along Thomas Drive, was concerned about where the drainage easements would go and whether the design of the ditches would make it impossible to build on some of his lots. He said he wouldn’t support the proposal until he had more information. City Engineer Tim Schoonhoven said he’d meet with Pappenfus to discuss those details.
A couple of residents strongly supported the project. Jeff Karrow, who lives on Thomas Drive, called it a “win-win for everybody.” He said the road isn’t safe when it rains, adding that a school bus ended up in the ditch one time and a garbage truck became stuck in the mud.
Karrow said that the money from the stormwater fees would help save on costs. He also said the city would save money because it won’t have to spend so much time grading the road. He said that a “Band-Aid” approach – constantly fixing the road – isn’t working.
Rod Karrow, another property owner, noted that Thomas Drive is deteriorating and urged the city to do the project as soon as it could. He said that property values would increase if the road were improved.
One other resident who spoke, John Kron, addressed a different topic. His house fronts Oak Knoll Drive and he doesn’t use Thomas Drive for access. He asked if his assessment could be removed. City Administrator Jim Taddei said that his point was well taken and that his property would likely be removed from the final assessments.
The majority of council members wanted to proceed with the project or at least see how the bids come in.
Council member Dave Benson said that Thomas Drive should have been paved when the area was platted for development. “The city should not have unimproved streets within the city limits,” he said.
Council member Elroy Frank said that continually fixing the road and spending money on design studies without doing anything wasn’t fair to all the other taxpayers in the city. Frank added that during an earlier meeting with property owners, there were no negative comments.
Council member Virgil Batesole said he was torn. He didn’t like the city forcing people to pay for something they don’t want and can’t afford but he was concerned about the road’s safety. He suggested having another meeting with the affected property owners.
Council member Owen Miller noted that the $60,000 in stormwater funds and extremely low bond rates would be lost opportunities if the city didn’t proceed with the project.
Council member Sara Carlson, who led the meeting in Mayor Dan Ness’ absence, noted that even if the council voted to pursue the project that night, it could still back out if the costs came in too high.
The council voted 4-1 to direct its engineering firm, Widseth Smith and Nolting, to prepare the plans and specifications for the Thomas Drive improvements so bids could be considered. Batesole voted against it.