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Evergreen residents stake out sides in street debate

Evergreen residents attended an open house last Wednesday where they learned about proposed road rehabilitation efforts that include trails and narrower streets. (Staff photo by Riham Feshir)

A proposed road project is dividing one Woodbury neighborhood in half.

Evergreen residents continued to voice their concerns on both sides of the issue regarding narrowing streets from 44 to 28 feet at an open house last week.

The city of Woodbury is proposing a $6.7 million project that would rip up aging streets, add a trail through the neighborhood and narrow the roads to curb a speeding problem.

But some longtime residents say the project would change the characteristics of an “iconic, suburban neighborhood” while young parents commend the city for taking steps to fix the speeding problem and create a safer community for children.

“I just don’t see the point,” said Tom Svoboda, noting that he’s not convinced that making the roads narrower will slow cars down. “If you’re going to slow people down, you put a cop out there or those flashing signs.”

City Engineer John Bradford presented new drawings of what the neighborhood would look like with an 8-foot wide trail, 28-foot streets and newer pavement.

Studies have shown that narrower residential streets urge drivers to subconsciously slow down, he said, and that signs and bumps aren’t as effective.

“The trouble with speed humps (is) you have to put them in so many times it ends up being a nuisance in the neighborhood,” he said, adding that evidence shows narrower roads are the best option to reduce speeding in residential neighborhoods.

Dick Larkin, an Evergreen resident who served on the city’s planning commission for 12 years in which the development was going through the approval process, said repaving roads is one thing, but changing the entire design should be more of a democratic process like any other new development that comes before the city.

He urged Bradford to “throw the manual out. Do something out of the box.”

A city survey garnered opinions on both sides, with about 50 percent in favor of reducing speed by narrowing the streets and the other half completely against it.

Mark Wolfe said he’s spent nearly every school day for the past nine years waiting for the bus with his children on Tamberwod Trail.

“It’s a 30 mph road but it’s so wide that it’s extremely easy to speed,” he said, adding that a lot of young families were “shocked to find out about the opposition.”

Wolfe said many Woodbury neighborhoods have 28-foot-wide streets with trails in front of the homes. The designs don’t make those neighborhoods any less elegant.

“There are sidewalks not just in Woodbury, but everywhere,” he said. “People just get used to it.”

The one change Wolfe recommended was for engineers to rethink the design of Evergreen’s entrance and eliminate the proposed trail there.

A walking path at the entrance isn’t necessary since the city isn’t narrowing that part of the neighborhood, he said.

“Why is the city forcing it?” he said. “Why not leave that part alone?”

Some of the residents are surprised the city is even considering a redesign of this scale because they remember how much the developer fought to have narrower roads and was turned down.

Evergreen gets its name from a Christmas tree farm located there before homes were built.

Since it was filled with trees, the potential for large-scale fires was a concern when it was being developed, said Al Seaver, whose family was the sixth to move into the neighborhood.

It was the city’s recommendation to build 44-foot wide streets in order for large fire trucks to get through in case of an emergency.

Though there aren’t as many trees left, there are still plenty of fire hazards at Evergreen, Seaver said.

“If one tree gets caught on fire on the bottom, it would spread to all the blocks,” he said.

Others in favor of the project don’t see a problem with the redesign, and encourage new design standards attractive to young families.

Lynn Hjelmen said she’s looking forward to having trails nearby. She recently learned they would actually increase property values.

“Adding a trail directly in front of my home will not negatively affect the value of my property,” she said. “If I were to put my home on the market, a trail would make my home more appealing to a family with children.”

Hjelman took the city’s suggestion and drove over to Leyland Trail, which is a narrower road with trails similar to what’s proposed on Pinehurst at Evergreen.

“I can see the trail only looking better with time,” she said. “Narrowing Pinehurst with an adjacent walking trail will not diminish the beauty of Evergreen. Evergreen will continue to be a unique and beautiful place to live.”

But Shelly Pope said the project snuck up on residents without a lot of interaction or interest in the neighborhood’s feedback.

“I was all excited for the roads and curbs to be done this summer and now I’m just pissed,” the 8-year resident of Evergreen said. “We walk every night through Evergreen. At no time were we ever fearful of our lives because of speeders.”

The initial public hearing held late last month will continue at 8 p.m. Wednesday, March 19. Woodbury Mayor Mary Giuliani Stephens, who lives in Evergreen, plans to abstain from voting on the project due to a potential conflict of interest.

In order for the project to move forward, the council is required to pass it with a super majority vote, which means the remaining four members must vote unanimously.

Riham Feshir
Riham Feshir is a reporter and photographer for the Woodbury Bulletin. Her coverage includes Woodbury City Hall, Washington County Board of Commissioners and business news.  Follow Riham on Twitter @RihamFeshir for the latest updates.