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Hearing examiner blocks opening opening of Kallgren Road

Neighbors applaud the decision, which would have created a thruway to Day Road.

City government got a strong message Friday, when it was barred from turning a forested path linking Kallgren and Day roads into a thruway.

“This will change the way the city does business,” said Councilwoman Debbie Vancil, who supported a Rolling Bay neighborhood effort to preserve the narrow, gravel lane. “It sets a precedent that the costs and benefits to landowners and neighborhoods must be used in decision-making.”

Many homeowners on Kallgren Road also applauded the decision by city Hearing Examiner Meredith Getches, who ruled for residents in their appeal of a city plan to open their street to Day, a busy thoroughfare that lies 400 feet north of Kallgren’s dead-end.

“I’m ecstatic,” Kallgren Road resident Rebecca Robbins said Monday. “It was a long, hard fight, but we won.”

While city and fire department staff had argued that the paved connection would boost overall connectivity and public safety, Getches ruled that these modest gains would not justify the possible deterioration of the Kallgren neighborhood’s character.

“Kallgren is what it was in the beginning – a community with a sense of place,” Robbins said. “And now it will stay that way.”

The decision could have implications for future growth and planning, as well as how city government regards public input, said Councilman Bill Knobloch.

“This decision is a breakthrough,” Knobloch said. “It will make city government and the council pay close attention to striking a balance between the community good and a neighborhood’s integrity.”

During the appeals process, Public Works Director Randy Witt said his department supported more road connections, but welcomed new discussions with the council on island-wide road standards.

Getches’ decision draws much of its basis from the city’s Comprehensive Plan, a document Vancil believes will now carry more weight in city government decisions.

“This really gave us an opportunity to see the Comprehensive Plan in action,” she said. “It reaffirms the Comprehensive Plan as the basis of law, and sometimes the city forgets about that.”

The city’s Department of Planning and Community Development issued a decision in August, making approval of a nearby short plat contingent upon a road connection to Day Road.

Deni Christensen, the Des Moines resident who was seeking the short plat, hoped to build three homes on her 18-acre property.

The city asserted that the new homes would require better traffic access than the dead-end driveway connection that Christensen wanted, and that a connection to Day would improve overall island traffic circulation.

The fire department supported a new connection, citing improved emergency access.

With an estimated cost of $30,000, Christensen countered that the city would saddle her with an undue financial burden.

Residents argued that no detailed traffic study called for a new connection at Kallgren Road. They also cited the city’s Compre­hensive Plan, which supports the preservation of the island’s rural character and quiet residential neighborhoods while focusing new growth and road development in the Winslow core.

Getches, in her ruling, sided with residents, stating that Planning Director Larry Frazier had failed to adequately take into account the land use elements of the Comprehensive Plan, which advocates narrow roads bordered by dense vegetation and the preservation of the island’s character.

The examiner also cites a failure by the Planning Department to take into account the environmental impacts of road construction and the long-term effects of additional traffic on the neighborhood.

“Eliminating the requirement to make Kallgren Road a through street should help maintain existing neighborhood character and would relieve (Christensen) of what would have been an undue and disproportionate burden,” Getches wrote in her ruling.

Getches also took a stand for the preservation of the neighborhood’s character, which is frequented by dog walkers, bicyclists and children at play who enjoy the dead-end as an oasis from auto traffic.

“As it is, Kallgren Road provides the neighborhood access to the rest of the island and it is a source of “community” for this neighborhood,” she wrote. “As a through street, it would still provide access for the neighborhood, but the community function would fade away or be lost in the service of providing circulation as part of a network of roads.”

Robbins commended Getches on her thorough examination of the case.

“She really did her homework and came up with a lot of the errors and mistakes the city made,” Robbins said.

Robbins and other residents spent upwards of $5,000 in legal fees to fight the city’s decision. Residents also spent hundreds of hours in public meetings and discussions with city staff, the mayor and city councilors, Robbins said.

“This was all a pleasant surprise, being that the city was so adamant that they were in the right,” she said. “But persistence paid off.”

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