Archive for Thursday, March 10, 2005

Vacating streets draws ire again

March 10, 2005

Baldwin City Council members took another look at Baker University's request that two streets near the Charlie Richard Sports Complex be vacated during Monday's meeting, but that look was cloudy.

While the discussion went from topic to topic, there were agreements that changed, but ultimately it was decided to go ahead with the public hearing on the request at the March 21 meeting. At one point, the movement was to delay the hearing and decision until the April 4 meeting because of spring break. But, that changed.

"I think the voters of Baldwin elected us to make decisions," said Councilman Ken Wagner. "I think we should vote. How many public hearings have we had where no one comes? I think we should do it at the next meeting."

What's at question is Baker's request that the block of Fremont Street between First and Second streets and the block of Second Street between High and Fremont streets be vacated. Baker cites safety issues on both with pedestrian and vehicle traffic mixed. A new parking lot is planned north of Liston Stadium and closing Fremont for that block would help, officials have said.

As for the block of Second Street, the plan would be to gate it during events and not close it. Whether that would work for the block of Fremont, too, is still up in the air.

Councilman Ted Brecheisen Jr. has indicating opposition to vacating the streets.

"I would have a problem with doing anything with it until the planning commission gives us their recommendations," said Brecheisen. "I hate to vacate those streets without seeing some plans. What happens with the streets once we vacate them?

Nancy Brown, also a member of the council, says she's heard opposition, too.

"I've had some conversations with folks," Brown said. "They don't have a problem with Baker using the streets, but in us giving it to them."

Half of the right-of-ways have already been vacated to Baker, dating back to the 1940s. This action would give the other half. The remainder of the council, including Amy Cleavinger, appears to favor the move and doesn't want to delay it so Baker can move on with the plans.

"When we talked about this two weeks ago, I thought this didn't have to go to the planning commission, now it is and we're delaying," Cleavinger said.

That sparked a debate between her and Brecheisen.

"I guess the upsetting thing to me is they don't have a plan to put in front of the planning commission," said Brecheisen. "Amy, you don't live over on that side of town. I've talked to people on Elm Street and they aren't happy about it."

"The plan is contingent on knowing what they can do," Cleavinger countered.

Gary Walbridge, director of maintenance at Baker who was the lone representative from the college Monday, was asked about the project's status.

"Currently, Baker has an engineering firm working on a parking lot north of the stadium," said Walbridge. "Baker University is moving forward with the parking lot. But, the question is what can be done if the streets are vacated."

He said that right now the plan would be to seal off Fremont Street during football games and Second Street for baseball and softball.

"That's kind of the way I lean," said Cleavinger. "I think Fremont is a given. But, on Second Street, I just like closing that off during events."

Wagner was ready to take it a step further.

"I'm ready to vote vacate Fremont Street, but not Second Street," he said.

In the end, it was decided that the March 21 public hearing would stand and a vote will be made. Councilman Tony Brown wanted to make sure that residents that might be gone on spring break can give their comments to council members or City Hall.

"I want to make it clear to people that they can use other means to let us know how they feel," he said.

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