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Woodbury council nixes road project in unprecedented vote

A Woodbury road project was scrapped Wednesday after a thorny discussion about a road issue that has generated unusually high levels of correspondence at City Hall.

Many Evergreen residents likely got what they wanted when the Woodbury City Council voted down a $6 million project that would’ve narrowed their streets – something most homeowners who spoke publicly felt strongly against.

But some were still unhappy the entire project was put off, which means streets will continue to age and crumble at least for another year.

City Council Member Amy Scoggins’ motion to pass the project as presented – with 28-foot wide streets versus 44 feet – wasn’t seconded. The remaining three council members decided not to move forward with the project and Mayor Mary Giuliani Stephens, who lives in Evergreen, abstained.

“There was a whole process of why we came up with 28 feet,” Scoggins said. “It wasn’t something that we just invented.”

The Evergreen neighborhood, one of Woodbury’s oldest communities that used to house evergreen trees before it was developed, has about 500 homeowners, many of whom say they’re proud to be part of an iconic community known for its wide streets and mature trees.

But the city proposed to narrow streets from 44 feet wide to 28 to help curb a speeding problem especially on Tamberwood Trail and Pinehurst Road as drivers enter and exit the neighborhood.

City Engineer Tony Kutzke said studies show 85 percent of the drivers accelerate up to 45 mph, with 15 percent driving even faster than that.

The city has been moving toward 28-foot wide streets since 2009 when the council agreed to implement the traffic calming technique while rehabbing roads each construction season.

City officials say the less impervious surface is also beneficial for stormwater runoff and groundwater quality.

Kutzke said a city survey gathered 81 responses opposing the project and 69 in favor.

Roger Smith, who spoke on behalf of the homeowners association, presented City Council with a survey distributed within the neighborhood that had other indicators.

He said 70 percent of respondents are less likely to purchase a home with a trail in the front. Another 70 percent suggested rehabbing the roads without making additional design changes to the neighborhood.

“Keep in mind the people we’re asking are not realtors, they’re the ones who buy homes, live in homes and take care of the homes,” Smith said.

Some residents said they felt ambushed as many aspects of the proposal weren’t introduced a few months ago at the very first neighborhood meeting.

“I was shocked that in February, all of a sudden road narrowing comes up,” said Dick Larkin, a 34-year resident of Evergreen. “If you put stripes on the road, I think it would narrow the driving focus.”

Daryl Pope said he was also surprised to find the walking path would cut right through his property. The city would also need a 10-foot easement out of his yard for the trail.

“We are the landowners and no one has talked to us,” he said.

Tracy Fosmo said she was disappointed with the public process and urged the council not to change the main features and designs of Evergreen.

“We’re better off not taking a chance on a project that we know far too little about,” she said.

Woodbury received dozens of letters and emails in response to the project with some residents referring to other studies that recommend various traffic calming techniques like stop signs, striping and speed humps. City Council Member Paul Rebholz said the feedback was part of the largest response City Hall has received to any issue in his 10 years on the council.

Engineers say narrower roads are the most effective because they force drivers to subconsciously slow down.

Scoggins said she lives on a 28-foot wide street and has never experienced traffic problems.

The arguments at the public hearing almost suggest that all Woodbury streets should be 44 feet wide, she added.

“It gets into the aesthetics more than the function of a 28-foot street,” Scoggins said.

Rebholz said the council must keep in mind financial impacts of any project and make decisions based on what benefits the entire city of Woodbury.

“The trails are not just about your neighborhood,” he said, noting that the city has been working to connect the entire community through walking and biking trails.

He also emphasized the environmental impact as well as effects on speeding with the proposed design.

“Design does drive speed in our community,” Rebholz said. “The wider the road, the faster people are going to drive.”

The council was interrupted a few times during their discussion with disgruntled audience members disagreeing.

At one point one resident said there is no point in having a discussion since the city’s mind was already made up.

“If our minds were made up we’d be out of here and onto the next meeting,” Stephens replied.

Though Rebholz agreed that communicating the project to residents could’ve been handled differently, he said putting off the project until next year will not make a difference.

“The conclusions that staff came to aren’t going to change,” he said.

City Administrator Clint Gridley said the economy is on the mend and construction bids will continue to rise. The project may cost more next year since asphalt prices may be higher.

He explained that initial proposals don’t typically include details like easements, trail locations, sprinklers and trees because they’re usually introduced later in the process.

Putting off the project will give the city time to work with the neighborhood on those details, Gridley said.

The project also included a few commercial areas at Tamarack Road and Currell Blouvard, and the Whispering Pines neighborhood, which will all move forward this construction season pending final council vote next week. 

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.