By Roz Kohls
Residents of Dassel had a straw vote last Monday at a hearing about extending Martin Drive to Highway 15, and overwhelmingly chose to barricade the dirt access instead.
Dassel City Council Administrator Myles McGrath sent out letters to 53 homes with addresses in the Sellards Avenue, Sellards Drive, Martin Drive and Circle View Drive area inviting property owners to the hearing. About 40 people showed up to give their opinions to the city council whether to turn the former field approach into a paved street with a proper turn lane from the highway.
McGrath explained that the dirt access at the end of Martin Drive is not a city street. It is private property. John Dahl, the developer of Martin Estates, has a temporary easement on it, so construction equipment can access the development, he said.
The city cannot improve it, or put gravel on it, or take responsibility for it, the way the dirt access is now, McGrath said.
Chuck DeWolf, city engineer from Bolton & Menk, estimated the project would cost a total of $96,000. The extension of Martin Drive would cost $46,000 and the right turn lane in the northbound side of Highway 15 would cost $50,000, he said.
MnDOT said no southbound turn lane was needed because the traffic count into the driveway to Lakeview Ranch wasn’t high enough to warrant it, DeWolf said.
Randy Hed, one of the dirt access property owners, which include Judy Berry and Rick Fiskum, said it didn’t make a nickel’s worth of difference to him whether the street is extended, because the property still has access to both Highway 15 and Martin Drive.
“We have no plans at the current time for that property,” Hed said.
Most of the people who objected to the project said the street wasn’t worth the $96,000 needed to extend it.
“None of us needs to use it,” one of the opponents of the project said.
Seymour Peterson, one of the original proponents in favor of turning the dirt access into a street, said not only should the access be available for emergency vehicles, but paving it would increase property values for the homes in the area.
Many people at the hearing disagreed. Chad Ardoff and Tom Sangren both said it was safer for children and preferable to live on a cul de sac than on a through-street.
Ardoff added there are at least 10 emergency responders who already live in that neighborhood. Except for responding to a fire, in which they would need to wear turn-out gear, the responders could get to area residents quickly in an emergency, even if a train is stretched out across the town, blocking the rest of the department from getting to the south end of town.
McGrath said the barricade could be set up so it would be surmountable by emergency vehicles. If used by less traffic, the dirt access would be less likely to become rutted or have a washboard surface, he added.
Meeker County Deputy Gordie Prochaska warned residents, however, that some drivers will try to sneak around the barricade.
“Most people use that road,” including himself, he said.
He added the access gets so much traffic, they would be hard pressed to find even a blade of grass growing on it.
Before the council took a straw vote, some of the residents asked how the improvements would have been assessed to area property owners.
DeWolf said the council would probably have multiple options for assessment rolls, based on who benefits.
Some residents, however, wanted more information before they voted, such as how much the city as a whole would pay for the construction.
Kelly Hedlund, for example, said the city has been taking responsibility for the access in the past, because it is getting snow plowed.
Mayor Ava Flachmeyer said the council needed to know people’s opinions before the city goes ahead on the project, because the feasibility study alone costs about $5,000.
About a half-dozen voted in favor of the project. The rest voted to barricade the access from traffic.