Archive for Thursday, August 12, 2010

Baldwin City, county to share road work expenses

August 12, 2010

One of the main roads leading into Baldwin City will get a makeover in 2012.

On Wednesday, the Douglas County Commission agreed to share with Baldwin City the estimated $3.2 million cost to upgrade a 1-mile stretch of Douglas County Road 1055, which becomes Sixth Street inside the city limits.

The project, which is slated to start during the 2012 construction season, will turn a rural country road into a more urban one with gutters, curbs and sidewalks, public works director Keith Browning said. A turn lane might also be added to the two-lane road.

The upgrades will occur between the traffic signal at U.S. Highway 56 and State Lake Road. For those traveling from Lawrence to Baldwin City on county roads, the stretch of highway is the main entrance into Baldwin City.

So far, the county hasn’t decided whether the road will be completely closed during construction.

“That will be one of the bigger challenges,” Browning said, noting there isn’t a clear detour to redirect traffic around the construction.

Baldwin City will pay the full cost of sidewalks and split the rest of the cost with Douglas County.

Wednesday’s approval will allow the county and city to move forward with hiring consultants and begin design work on the project.

This is the third time Douglas County has worked with Baldwin City to improve Douglas County Road 1055.

Comments

averagejoe 4 years ago

In the spring of this year, the Baldwin City council voted by a narrow margin to not require new developments north of Highway 56 to install sidewalks, curbing and gutters and include these costs in their home prices.

At the time, I predicted that sooner or later, all Baldwin City citizens would eventually be forced to pay these costs when one of the wise wizards runnning our fine city decided these improvements would be pretty and nice for those neighbors, or they fulfilled some unspoken agreement with developers to eventually sneak in these neighborhood improvements.

Whether the $3.2 million is from Baldwin City or Douglas County coffers, the money represents taxes collected from all Baldwin City and Douglas County taxpayers being used to pretty-up the neighborhood of wealthy developers and homeowners who should have ponied up these costs themselves when their neighborhood and homes were built.

Meanwhile, the sidewalks, gutters and curbing surrounding the greater Baldwin City downtown area are literally in such disrepair as to be unusable or dangerous to pedestrians. These sidewalks would never meet the legal requirements of Federal Law protecting the rights of disabled people (including the elderly). There is not one single sidewalk that would accommodate a wheelchair for any more than 1 or 2 blocks, let alone ramped curbing for access.

The street curbing surrounding Baker University is an embarassment. The curbing is virtually crumbling into the street in some areas.

Sidewalks in the downtown surrounding residential areas are hazardous. Take a minute someday and just see how many people take walks "in the street" because the sidewalks are a disgrace and unusable or non-existent.

Some residents within a 10 block area around downtown have waited more than 50 years for gutters, curbing and sidwalks. And we still wait while $3.2 million of "our" tax dollars are spent once again to beautify and improve the new, wealthier neighborhoods that should have constructed these normal neighborhood enhancements at the time of construction and the costs absorbed by the home buyer.

Downtown Baldwin City is the focal point, main attraction and gathering place for our city residents and our visitors. People do not close their eyes and drive blind to get to downtown. They see the rotten and decayed (or non-existent) sidewalks, the total lack of curbing and guttering along with the muddy ditches. Downtown must seem like an oasis of paradise after traversing these poorly maintained neighborhoods.

I think our city leaders should be pressed to explain this situation since it is all of our tax dollars going to benefit a select few who should have paid for these improvements along with their beautiful, expensive homes.

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robinbayer 4 years ago

averagejoe,

Please accept this as an initial attempt to provide an explanation for which you asked:

I think it very important to clarify that the City Council adopted new zoning and subdivision ordinances this past Spring that did not require developments with the zoning of "RLD", (meaning 'rural low density') to install sidewalks or curbing/guttering. This will affect all RLD developments whether they occur north or south of U.S. 56. The designation of RLD is for developments with lot sizes between 1 and 3 acres. The existing Signal Oak neighborhood is a good model for visualizing what an RLD designated development would look like. Developments with lot sizes less than 1 acre would still require sidewalks and curbs/guttering.

The improvements along N. 6th Street are for an existing roadway (not new development) and were planned by Douglas County many years ago. This represents an opportunity for Baldwin City to install sidewalks at a time when the roadway will be widened and improved. I am strongly in favor of installing sidewalks along this roadway to provide walkability from the Signal Oak/Signal Ridge neighborhoods back into the rest of the City since many children seem to favor this route to get where they are going. The adoption of the new zoning and subdivision ordinances has no bearing whatsoever on this project.

Furthermore, I concur with your assessment of crumbling sidewalks. Baldwin City municipal code (as does the code of many other cities) requires that homeowners properly maintain and repair the sidewalks that cross their properties and the curbs that border them. It presents a difficult decision to know how aggressively to push homeowners to replace their sidewalks given the economic situation that we all find ourselves in. I cannot explain why previous City Councils over the last several decades did not address this issue, but I assure you that this topic is routinely discussed among members of the current Governing Body and City staff.

This explanation may or may not have satisfied your curiosity. If not, please feel free to call me anytime at 913-645-6666. I will do my level best to get you the information that you need.

Sincerely,

Mr. Robin Bayer

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averagejoe 4 years ago

I appreciate your reply and very adequate explanation, Mr. Bayer. You make some valid points and this explains the situation in better detail.

As a side note, I think some of the long time residents of Baldwin City and the rural areas, many of whom were born and grew up here, and those that live within a 10-15 block area around downtown, feel neglected many times because so much work and money is spent in the new neighborhoods.

While everyone I speak with welcome the new neighbors and home development, it is a common perception that a lot of money and improvements are going to these newer, wealthier areas to the neglect and detriment of the older neighborhoods. There is a feeling that these newer residents are pushing the school district and the city to transform Baldwin City into the image (including the high property taxes and luxuries) of their previous neighborhoods of Johnson County and they are gaining the political sway to push their agenda.

While I am personally in favor of progress, development and modernization, I think care and consideration needs to be taken so that projects favor and positively effect all citizens or neighborhoods over time.

Property taxes for the city and school district are now a huge burden on our retired citizens. Baldwin City has always been a haven for retirement for our own citizens, retiring ministers, former Baker alumni , etc. But the tax situation has become a huge burden for these folks. Some elderly are now almost to the point of not being able to afford their home taxes and their only alternative is to sell their residences. Many of these elderly would never openly complain or speak about their situations in public.

I don't have all the answers and I don't expect anyone else to know every single solution. You politely throw out your concerns and then scramble around to solve them by the best methods possible. It's difficult enough to keep from sounding hypocritical. It's not an exact science; it's a progressively learned, never perfected skill.

Thank you for your discussion of this issue. You're somewhat at a disadvantage because of the anonymity of the Comment Section. I understand that.

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