Those who stand to lose rural character with expansion of 2nd Street East make concerns known
by Jim Boyle
Barry Schreiber and Barbara Rudquist bought a 10-acre slice of heaven in August 1989 to operate a horse farm. They acquired another 7.5 acres when a neighbor decided to sell part of their 10-arce parcel. They have had as many as five horses to ride and care for on their peaceful, wooded acreage.
Occasionally, the serenity they have enjoyed for more than three decades on the farm is shattered by a violent crash on Highway 169.
“There were a few Sunday afternoons punctuated by sirens and all that stuff attending to someone who had been trying to get their way across the highway when it wasn’t going to work,” Schreiber said.
They and countless others have been eagerly awaiting news of funding for improvements to the highway with the proposed addition of an interchange at Sherburne County Road 4 to restore safety and improve mobility.
This past November, however, they were “shocked” and “dismayed” to learn that a proposal to improve circulation and community connectivity would cut their farm in half. Schreiber and Rudquist, who married in 1990 and look forward to many more years at their farmstead, and many of their neighbors came out to a Nov. 30 open house hosted by city, county and state officials and vehemently objected to the latest revision of the plan.
“We are in favor of the project,” Schreiber said. “We’re questioning the need for this road. It really offers no benefit to adjacent property owners. We all have our own well and septic. We have our access out to highways. We see this as a step backwards.”
Surprise development dates back to 2007
Andrew Witter, the public works director for Sherburne County, doesn’t doubt they were surprised.
“I do believe it might have been a surprise,” he told the Star News. “That being said, it’s the beginning of a process, it’s the start of conversation, it’s an opportunity to engage with not only individuals but with property owners and community members.”
Schreiber and Rudquist’s property — because they own land on both sides of the former railroad bed — would essentially be cut in half, severing the land where the animals graze when they’re not in the barn or sequestered in a smaller fenced area.
The couple acquired the railroad right of way in 1991, right after the county was offered the property by Burlington Northern. BN was done with it, and they no longer wanted to pay taxes on it. Property owners who acquired it have been picking up the tax bill.
“This (connector road) would interfere with the use and enjoyment of our land,” Rudquist said. “This is all quiet rural and residential; we don’t need a road running right by the corner of our house with the attendant noise, pollution and crime. It doesn’t take into account the character of the way the land is being used right now. The people live here came because it’s private and quiet and they want to keep it that way.”
The Zimmerman couple said they fought with the people who wanted to put the Great Northern Trail here.
“Look, you (the county) had the opportunity to buy this 30 years ago and you declined. You’ll have to route it elsewhere, we said. They (the county) understood that argument.”
Witter said the idea of the connecting road dates back to 2007 when the community — Zimmerman and Elk River — began working with the environmental assessment document.
“Those concepts were included in there, knowing that there needed to be that community connection for public safety purposes,” Witter said. “There were a number of concepts drawn up 15 years ago.”
Witter said as officials started working through the interchange design more recently with the Minnesota Department of Transportation and their geometric design unit it became clear how steadfast MnDOT would be on their guidelines.
“And they will continue to be steadfast on their guidelines,” Witter said. “Any access within a half mile of where the ramps tie in with 169 need to be closed.
“As a project management team, we thought we need to do something to help mitigate those access closures to help maintain some options and alternatives and community connectivity and reduce some of the pressure on the interchange as well as improve and assist with emergency response for police and fire.”
Witter said they also looked at the engineering side of what officials considered the best case scenario as well as the land use planning side. The first open house didn’t have those concepts in there, “because we hadn’t had those conversations with MnDOT,” Witter said. “We didn’t know all those accesses were going to be closed.”
Witter said city, county and state officials sent out a larger direct mailing so they could include all of the individuals that would be affected by some of the expanded project areas.
“So that was the first time they saw it,” Witter said.
Bolton Menk recently published the findings of the open house and people who provided feedback online.
Discussion, planning and decisions still needed to be made
There also has been a subsequent meeting with the Livonia Town Board, which was attended by the majority of the affected property owners, to look at options.
There have been additional drawings and some that bring a connection closer to Highway 169 that are more of a frontage system.
“Do nothing is an alternative, too,” Witter said. “The one that was pulled out of the environmental document from 15 years ago is one that bisects the properties that are fronting 169. It goes through structures.”
Witter said by doing nothing and using 273rd Avenue as the means for connecting traffic to County Road 45 that already exists, the distance is about a mile or more away from the interchange.
“You start losing some community connectivity,” he said. “The do-nothing approach, 273rd becomes the connection by default.
“You don’t need improvements, but you also lose community connectivity by not doing anything with 269th. ... We will start seeing pressure on the interchange and the interchange might need to be larger and create more impact on the community in other ways.
“As soon as we go from two lanes to four lanes (on County Road 4), we’re buying out half of the businesses, and nobody wants that,” Witter said.
Best development-friendly and connectivity option flows through Second Street
The project brings with it an opportunity.
“The (proposal that expands Second) really creates the best development opportunity for the future versus what I would call a traditional frontage road system, which then gives you about half of the developable area,” Witter said. “There is impact for the properties, and we’re going to need to mitigate that. We understand that. We are in the process of understanding that even more.”
Witter argues that if the infrastructure is in place, they won’t need to reduce their offer to landowners because they won’t need to build a whole bunch of infrastructure.
“We believe we will be able to get this portion fully funded and built for the future expansion of the community,” he said. “It takes a lot of that cost burden off of the local properties if and when they decide to develop.”
Landowners like Schreiber disagree and say those infrastructure tabs should be picked up by the developers, and they and others are not ready to sell off their land.
“All these properties are privately owned, and second of all we don’t believe the taxpayers should have to pay for this,” Schreiber said. “It should be whoever develops the property to be the person to pay the significant charges for extending the roadway and having the water and sewer (charges).”
Witter said officials are aware there are a number of landowners that have said they’re not ready to develop or sell.
“They want it to remain on as is,” he said. “I’ll be honest I have heard from a property owner or two that is interested and likes the opportunity of the road coming through their area.”