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Sewer stalls; Ericksen approved -- News Roundup

South-end sewer stalls

South-end residents vented frustration at the city council Wednesday evening, as a design contract for sewer extensions stalled.

“We’ve worked on this for five years,” Pleasant Beach resident Julie Schulte told the council. “Now is not the time to kill it.”

At issue: a $260,000 contract for further design work and formation of local improvement districts for the sewer plan, which would extend service to four neighborhoods – Emerald Heights, Pleasant Beach, Point White and Rockaway Beach.

Service would be provided by the Fort Ward sewer district, under a yet-to-be-completed agreement with the city.

The contract would identify the boundaries of the LIDs, within which residents would pay for the extension of lines.

Wednesday, some council members expressed concern that should the LIDs fall through and the project be abandoned, the general taxpayer would be stuck with the cost of the work.

That brought the rebuke of residents in several areas, who urged the council to ante up and move the project forward.

Emerald Heights resident Ron Kinney accused the council of putting up “road blocks,” while his neighborhood continues to be plagued by septic problems.

In the latest round of valuations by the county, Kinney said his property actually decreased in value by $5,000. Local realtors, he said, have been describing Emerald Heights as a “cesspool,” driving down home prices.

“Am I upset? You bet I’m upset,” Kinney said.

Other residents expressed concern over escalating cost estimates, leading to fears that homeowners will get sticker shock and interest in the project will wane.

Point White resident Bill Cairns said residents there are now looking at sewer hookup costs of $34,000 per home, up from earlier estimates of $18,000.

That left council members including Norm Wooldridge concerned about the plan’s viability.

“Now I’m hearing people say, ‘if it costs more, maybe I don’t need it,’” he said. “I’m not very sympathetic to that.”

Wooldridge suggested that the sewer extension be limited to the Emerald Heights neighborhood, where the most pressing need has been shown.

The contract was sent back to the council’s public works committee, which will take comment at its 3 p.m. Monday meeting.

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***City buys two Fort Ward lots

The city council Wednesday agreed to purchase two building lots in Fort Ward, for $100,000.

The parcels, on Robertson Road, were purchased from developer John Niemeyer. The purchase was announced after an executive session at the conclusion of Wednesday’s meeting.

The city had earlier considered a deal in which Niemeyer would donate as many as seven lots to the city, in exchange for improvements to the road on which he plans to develop several other parcels.

Officials determined that the exchange would not be advantageous to the city, and pursued outright purchase instead.

The lots are part of the area’s wetland system, and their development “would have exacerbated an already bad stormwater and drainage problem in that basin,” Councilwoman Christine Nasser Rolfes said.

The city may also pursue other parcels in the area to protect them from development.

“This project is a real win-win-win for the city, the developer, and the neighborhood,” Nasser Rolfes said.

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***Ericksen, other projects OK’d

The long-running debate over the future of Ericksen Avenue came to an anti-climactic end Wednesday.

Following a brief and perfunctory discussion, the council Wednesday approved a “minimalist-plus” plan for improvements on the Winslow street.

The design integrates a number of comments from a public meeting held last month.

The project will include construction of a bike lane on the east side of the street, a meandering sidewalk of varying width on the west, and some planter strips and landscaping.

Significant trees will be retained; one traffic-calming proposal, elevated “speed tables” in the roadway, was abandoned before the plan went to the council.

The project was approved by a vote of 6-0, with Councilwoman Lois Curtis absent, ending months of debate among councilmembers and neighbors.

“Yay,” Councilman Norm Wooldridge said somewhat sardonically, after the vote was taken.

Designs for the estimated $1.6 million project, which includes stormwater and other utility improvements, will be finalized this year, with construction planned for 2003. Discussion of power undergrounding was tabled for later discussion, pending notification of neighbors.

Also Wednesday, the council approved a series of pedestrian improvements on Madison Avenue and High School Road.

The project will include four landscaped “refuge islands” in the Madison Avenue center turn lane, between Winslow Way and Wyatt Way. The sidewalk near Lundgren Station will be extended and made ADA-compliant, and a new parking space will be added there.

Crosswalks will be added north of Wyatt, with islands also planned on High School Road in front of Virginia Villa apartments and the M&M Texaco.

A new island at the High School/Hildebrand intersection will be constructed, to channelize traffic flow and end what one engineer called a “free-for-all” there.

Total cost of the project is put at less than $100,000, with work expected to begin this fall.

Parts of the project were opposed by fire officials. Ken Guy, fire department executive director, said islands and similar “engineered” traffic calming decrease the response time of emergency vehicles.

The islands could make it difficult for fire trucks to pass vehicles en route to calls, Guy said. He called for “education and enforcement” to keep speeds down and improve safety.

But councilmembers Bill Knobloch and Debbie Vann chided fire officials for not having raised the issues while the project was being discussed in committee.

“It’s irritating,” said Knobloch, adding that he was confident that drivers would do whatever was necessary to get out of the way of emergency vehicles.

The project was approved by a 5-1 vote. The lone dissent came from Wooldridge, who said he supported the High School Road improvements but opposed islands on Madison.

A third project – which would complete a sidewalk on the west side of Madison Avenue from High School Road to New Brooklyn Avenue, and add one to south side of New Brooklyn west to Sportsman Club – was pulled from the agenda because of the lateness of the hour.

The council also delayed action on a proposal to restrict parking on residential streets around the high school. Questions remained over the details of parking permits that for several home-based businesses in the area.

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