By Jennifer Kotila
HOWARD LAKE, MN The addition of new sidewalks in the city of Howard Lake has been a contentious issue for residents living along the streets where the sidewalks will be installed.
At Tuesday’s council meeting, the council decided to stick with the original street and utility improvement project plans as approved in April, which include the installation of new sidewalks.
After hearing numerous requests from residents to remove new sidewalks from the plan, the council had revisited the issue at its July 5 meeting, and made the decision to remove many of the sidewalks from the plan.
Because the city then received feedback from residents who want the new sidewalks to remain in the plan, the council decided to once again revisit its decision.
A special meeting of the council took place last Monday at the 800 and 900 blocks of 10th Avenue with city engineer Barry Glienke of Bolton & Menk to get a better understanding of the issues homeowners have with new sidewalks.
Some residents along those blocks spoke with the council as they were reviewing the site, one of whom gave the council a petition wanting to keep the sidewalks, said City Administrator Kelly Hinnenkamp.
At Tuesday’s meeting, residents had their final opportunity to address the council about new sidewalks.
Many of the residents who had spoken at the last council meeting brought up the same concerns about snow removal.
Tod Ovall, a landlord who owns a home at the corner of 10th Avenue and Ninth Street, addressed the council to express concern about possible damage to two big trees if new sidewalks were installed.
The trees have shallow root systems, which run the risk of getting cut with the installation of a sidewalk, Ovall said.
Losing the trees would decrease his property value, and cost him several thousand dollars to remove, he added.
Glienke noted that the sidewalk would be 10 to 15 feet away from the trees at Ovall’s property, and the eight-to 10-inch excavation for its installation was unlikely to affect the trees’ root systems.
However, the installation of the new sewer and water utilities at that property has a higher probability of damaging the trees, since excavation has to be done 8 to 9 feet deep, Glienke said.
“By that time, the sidewalks are a moot point, the trees would already be damaged by the sewer and water installation,” Glienke added.
Although he could not guarantee the trees wouldn’t be damaged, Glienke noted the contractors do what they can to assure as little damage as possible, and that it is hard to say what was damaged by the city.
“I felt last night that those trees, in regard to the sidewalk, would be fine,” said Council Member Tom Kutz.
“For me, it’s an issue of return on investment. I put a lot of money into the house. Losing the trees is a big concern,” Ovall said.
Another resident, Mark Narum, addressed the council as well at Tuesday’s meeting. He had given the council members a petition the night before with eight out of 11 houses on his block in favor of new sidewalks.
Along his block, there are 11 to 12 children under the age of 8. “I don’t care about trees, or shoveling the sidewalk,” Narum said, “I care about kids getting hurt.”
Resident Jessie Anderson, who had addressed the council July 5 with her concerns about how much of her yard and driveway would be taken by the new sidewalk, brought the same issue up again.
She offered the solution of placing the sidewalk on only one side of 10th Avenue.
“I don’t see where your driveway is a bigger issue than my kids’ safety,” Narum said to Anderson.
Glienke explained the marks on Anderson’s driveway to her again to explain where the sidewalk would be and how much room she would still have.
Anderson also asked the council who was paying for the street and utility improvements, and who was responsible if a child was hurt when on the sidewalk.
The city has planned yearly increases of the sewer and water rates to pay for the street and utility improvement project, and the city’s insurance would cover a child who was hurt on the sidewalk, Hinnenkamp said.
Other residents who voiced their concerns at the meeting said they could understand the need for sidewalks as a safety issue, but did not want to clear the sidewalks of snow in the winter.
Some residents voiced concern about the fairness of not putting sidewalks everywhere in town, and asked why none were being installed in some areas.
They said it was not fair some people would not have to deal with a sidewalk in front of their home.
Some of the sidewalks that were proposed for 6th Avenue were removed from the plan because it would be very expensive due to the retaining wall that would be needed, Glienke said.
“We are dealing within the city’s right-of-way,” said Mayor Rick Lammers. “We have talked about all the different issues, and they are all valid, but I agree with Mark about the safety.”
“Anybody who lives on 10th Avenue knows it’s a dragway,” Narum said, urging residents to come back to the council and talk about the snow removal ordinance rather than not having sidewalks.
The goal when the plans for the street and utility project were designed was to have a sidewalk all the way to the trailer court to create a pathway to the school, and to make way for future paths, Glienke said.
“As long as I have been on the council, I have felt we needed a sidewalk from the trailer court to school. I think the proposal from April meets everything needed,” Kutz said, noting the need to revisit the snow removal ordinance.
“The city has put a lot of thought into this plan. The biggest issue is snow removal,” said Council Member Allan Munson. “It’s tough to see that this project would be a detriment to the city.”