HJ/EDHerald Journal, Nov. 28, 2005

Mayer prepares for Hwy 25 reconstruction

By Dave Cox
Staff Writer

Finn’s Place owner Diane Buranen has spent some sleepless nights lately, wondering if the Highway 25 reconstruction project in Mayer will mean the end of the business that she and her husband opened nine months ago.

Buranen was one of more than 30 residents and business owners who crowded into the Mayer Community Center last Monday to ask questions and express concerns about the possible impacts of the Highway 25 reconstruction project to the city.

“We are not here to debate whether the project will go forward. We are here to ask for your input to help us to identify challenges and concerns so we can do this project right,” said City Engineer David Martini, in response to comments that the city was embarking on the project without the support of residents.

Among the issues raised during the open house were concerns about access to businesses, drainage, sidewalk widths, and assessments for the improvements.

Martini explained that the city views this as an opportunity to make changes that will benefit the city well into the future.

Some residents commented that they felt it was unfair for property owners along the highway to pay for the improvements, since they are not the only ones who will receive a benefit from the project.

Others mentioned that the assessments would pose an unwelcome burden on residents who are nearing retirement age.

Other residents questioned whether the project would actually add value to their property.

Martini said that there will be an assessment hearing after bids have been received, and property owners will have an opportunity to appeal assessments at that time.

The total estimated assessment is $488,581, and individual assessments range from approximately $6,000 to $20,000, according to City Administrator Luayn Murphy.

In response to a question about why the city is choosing to make other infrastructure improvements at this time, in addition to the highway improvements MnDOT planned, Martini stated that this is an opportunity to take care of needed improvements at a time when the road will be under construction anyway.

Murphy pointed out that another benefit of making the improvements now is the fact that MnDOT will be picking up nearly half of the cost of the project, reducing the burden on city residents.

Murphy also stated that of the total estimated assessment, $108,000 is for watermain improvements.

The city council has informally discussed the possibility of the city picking up the cost of the watermain improvements using funds from area charges paid by developers, which would reduce the assessments for this project, Murphy said.

During the planning for this project, the city identified drainage issues that need to be addressed.

Murphy stated that of the $200,000 cost of drainage improvements, $53,000 is being assessed, and the remainder is being paid by MnDOT.

Another issue that was discussed was access to businesses along the highway.

Buranen said that the proposed project would eliminate parking at the front of her building.

“We are asking the city, do you want existing businesses to survive?” Buranen said.

“This is our only handicapped-accessible parking, and all parking is vital to a business,” Buranen commented.

Buranen explained that Finn’s Place has only a single row of parking on three sides of the building. It is bordered by Highway 25 in front, 5th St. NW on the north, and an alley in the back.

The nine spots in front of the building represent one-third of the total off-street parking on the property.

“When we bought this place nine months ago, we asked the city if there were any issues or concerns we should be aware of, and we were told there weren’t any. Then, two weeks ago, they approached us about taking away our parking in the front of the building,” Buranen said.

She stated that she has collected over 275 signatures in the last week in support of preserving the parking.

“We are just asking the city to consider alternatives,” Buranen said.

She stated that when she first discussed the problem with the city, she was told there were no alternatives, but now, the city has agreed to work with her to look for possible alternatives.

Murphy stated that the city is not trying to take away Finn’s parking.

“Those parking spaces are in the MnDOT right-of way. This has been verified. The city submitted three options, and we have now submitted a fourth option, that would give them more parking, Murphy said.

James (Finn) Buranen said that he has talked to a representative at MnDOT, and was told that MnDOT is not interested in taking away the parking, but will be guided by city recommendation on this issue.

Options for keeping the parking in front of the building include installing surmountable curb to maintain access from Highway 25, or moving the roadway out slightly and creating access to these parking spaces from 5th St. NW, Murphy said.

Martini said that no options have yet been submitted to MnDOT, but ideas have been discussed as to how to achieve a balance between the business owners’ desire to preserve parking, and the city’s desire to install curb and gutter, improve drainage, and extend the sidewalk to 5th St. NW.

One option that has been discussed is to find additional parking elsewhere, Martini said.

The loss of any parking spaces would hurt the business, according to Finn.

“We get a lot of elderly people in here, and people in wheelchairs or using walkers. If they can’t park out front, they will drive to Waconia or somewhere where they can park near the door,” Finn commented.

The city collected comments from residents at the open house, and Martini will review these prior to preparing the final design for the project.

Murphy said that after residents viewed photos of sidewalks of different widths in other area cities, the consensus is to change from the existing six-foot-wide sidewalks to eight-foot-wide sidewalks. Light poles that are currently in the roadway will be outside the curb under the new plan.

The city’s goal is to add sidewalks to create connections so that people can walk from the new developments to the downtown area safely, Murphy commented.

When complete, the roadway will have a 12-foot parking lane on each side, and a 12-foot driving lane in each direction.

When complete, the revised plan will be brought back to the city council for approval.

Once approved by the council, the plan will be sent to MnDOT for approval.

Murphy said that the project is expected to go out for bids in February or March 2006, and construction could begin in June.

Martini said the project should be completed by the end of the summer.

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