Fir, Spruce lane extensions and cul de sacs get the most property owner attention

    It’s typical around this time of year for the City of Crookston’s planned street improvement projects for the upcoming construction season to spur some questions, concerns and complaints. But this year’s list, which includes extensions of Fir Lane and Spruce Lane east of Barrette Street in the town’s northeast corner and the newly constructed streets each terminating in cul de sacs, has generated more public attention than most street projects.

    As part of an agreement with developer Bob Herkenhoff, who’s partnering with the Northwest Minnesota Housing Cooperative, the City will construct the extended streets this year, and each cul de sac will have six residential lots available for sale and home construction. Similar to his pond behind lots to the south along Eickhof Boulevard, part of his Nature’s View Estates residential development, Herkenhoff is digging a second pond that will be situated to the east of the cul de sacs. He’s also suggested some land be left available for a path that would lead to the pond; Herkenhoff previously said he’d be willing to somehow convey the land to the City in the future so the area could become sort of a natural park.

    The street extension and cul de sac projects are estimated to cost $312,275, with assessments to the impacted properties totaling $65,132.83.

    Kathryn Amiot, who lives on Barrette Street a bit down the block from the projects, is relatively new to Crookston and said she doesn’t understand how her property can be assessed when she won’t be residing in either of the cul de sacs. As he’s done in previous years, Public Works Director Pat Kelly explained that in certain circumstances, in order to avoid corner parcels being hit with full assessments for two separate street projects, properties that extend some down the side street are assessed as well.

    Although Kelly said “everyone uses side streets” and therefore benefits from them being in good shape, Amiot said she wouldn’t drive down the extended Fir or Spruce lanes because they both will end in cul de sacs.

    Kelly acknowledged that it’s a unique situation that can be difficult for some property owners to accept. But, he reminded everyone in the council chambers at this week’s city council meeting, the City of Crookston pays covers the cost of approximately 80 percent of street improvement projects, leaving only 20 percent to be assessed to impacted property owners.

    City Administrator Shannon Stassen echoed Kelly’s remarks, saying that a couple of similarly sized cities in the region assess their property owners 60 and 80 percent for street improvement projects, and one of the cities uses only concrete, “which is much more expensive,” he noted.

    Asked by Barrette Street property owner Kent Freberg who will be assessed for the street extensions when no homes have yet been built in the soon-to-be cul de sacs, Kelly said it’s his understanding that Herkenhoff owns the lots and the assessments are on him until the properties change hands.

    (While property owners have the option of paying for street assessments up front, the vast majority of the time, for assessments of at least $3,000, they are paid over a period of four to 10 years with an interest rate of around 4 percent, with the City over a predetermined period of years spreading the assessment out and adding it to a parcel’s annual property tax statement.)

    “Our formula has worked for a long, long time and is set up to distribute (costs) more evenly over a longer time, while improving streets all over town without having people hit all at once,” Stassen said.

    “I absolutely appreciate that,” Amiot responded. “But anyone would be remiss if they got a bill in the mail like this and just paid it without questioning it at all.”

    Amiot also had questions about language in the street projects/assessment explanation, specifically, in regard to street projects that benefit or don’t benefit the community at large. She asked if the city attorney was present at the meeting to discuss it, but Stephen Larson was not in attendance. Stassen asked Amiot to put her concerns in writing and the City would see to it that they were reviewed by legal counsel.

    Also in regard to the two street extensions and cul de sacs, Kelly and Widseth Smith Nolting & Associates engineer Rich Clauson assured concerned property owners that the drainage issue in and near the City’s utility easement on the eastern edge of their Barrette Street backyards will be properly addressed as part of this summer’s projects. Clauson said two storm sewers will be installed to drain the water from the area, which one property owner said has been knee-deep at times.
Other project questions, concerns

    • Ash Street is to receive a bituminous mill and overlay from south of Loring Street to Third Street. Kay Hegge, speaking on behalf of Prairie Skyline Foundation, which owns the old Cathedral and, now, also owns the old Methodist Church further north and on the other side of Ash Street, said the Cathedral roof project has hit a couple snags and more money needs to be raised as a result. Hegge asked if there would be any “consideration given” to a non-profit agency that owns vacant buildings that don’t generate street traffic.

    “You own the building, you own the land,” At Large Council Member Tom Vedbraaten said.

    “I’ll take that as a ‘Not at this time,’” Hegge responded.

    • Second Street is to receive a bituminous mill and overlay from Market Street to Ash Street. Brian Moore, who manages the Grand Theatre, noted several unexpected bill relating to equipment repairs and the severe winter have added up to more than $6,000. Facing an estimated $3,000 assessment for the project, Moore said, “I don’t have the money for this.”

    Moore also was concerned about the road being entirely closed to traffic, meaning no one could access the Grand by vehicle. But Kelly assured him that, since it’s an overlay project, people will be able to drive on it even after it’s been milled and before it receives its bituminous overlay.