Brainerd: Council lowers assessments for Buffalo Hills Lane project

After hefty criticism during a Brainerd City Council informational meeting in October, residents in the Buffalo Hills Lane community will be assessed for half the cost of a major reconstruction project.

This color-coded map shows the properties that would be assessed for costs on the proposed Buffalo Hills Lane reconstruction project. City of Brainerd
This map shows residents who will be assessed for the proposed Buffalo Hills Lane reconstruction project. (Click the image to see the entire map.) City of Brainerd

After hefty criticism during a Brainerd City Council informational meeting in October, residents in the Buffalo Hills Lane community will be assessed for half the cost of a major reconstruction project.

In September, the council agreed to assess property owners based on number of lots for 100 percent of the estimated $900,000 project, which is proposed to reconstruct Buffalo Hills Lane from just west of Graydon Avenue to Mississippi Drive and create a 10-foot trail. The proposal also includes a new storm sewer system and a stormwater pond near Ridge Drive, along with replacing the sanitary sewer castings and adjustments.

During the Oct. 16 informational meeting, emotions ran high as residents raised concerns-and their voices-about the project's impact to their property and the necessity of assessment costs.

City Engineer Paul Sandy told the Safety and Public Works Committee Monday, Dec. 17, he is not proposing any changes to the methodology of assessments but wants to reconsider the amount of the project to be assessed after weighing resident feedback.

When the project was first proposed, staff treated it as new construction, as Buffalo Hills Lane was never constructed or graded to city standards. However, after conversations with the city attorney, Sandy said staff has agreed to treat the project as a reconstruction because the road has been open for public use and assess 50 percent of the costs.


Sandy said staff also suggested providing a 50 percent assessment relief to residents who have two outlets to their property and don't always have to use Buffalo Hills Lane for access. That relief would include properties in the second addition to Madison Heights, the Eastview/Southview Court addition and the Tanager/Blue Jay Ridge additions.

Council member Kelly Bevans, however, was not keen on the 50 percent relief, saying it could potentially open doors for residents to argue for other situations to constitute discounts as well.

"After what I heard at the public meeting at the church, I almost think we should scrap the project and just quit plowing the road. I've never seen a staff member so disrespected in my life," Bevans said, referring to several interruptions during Sandy's presentation at the public meeting. "I heard arguments that I would consider petty on the project ... and neighbors arguing against neighbors."

Bevans noted a downtown project for which the council reduced assessments and said the city still gets grief for the decision from those who previously had to pay more.

That being said, Bevans noted the project's importance and agreed to the 50-50 assessments, recognizing the special circumstances around the road.

"I think the 50-50 is a fair compromise," he said. "That 50-50 affects everybody."

City policy only allows for assessments for a standard 7-ton road design, but because Buffalo Hills Lane is a municipal state aid street, it requires 9-ton construction and thus is approximately a 55 percent city cost and 45 percent assessed cost project. The cost, then to residents, will be about $1,400 per parcel, as opposed to $3,150 if they were assessed for the whole cost.

Because the street is a municipal state aid street, state aid funds will be used for the project. Assessments will be used to reimburse those state aid funds, Sandy said.


The council approved the 50-50 assessment ratio during its regular meeting Monday, with council member Sue Hilgart abstaining, as she has property involved in the project.

City staff will host another informational meeting for the project at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 8, at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints on Buffalo Hills Lane.

Theresa Bourke started working at the Dispatch in July 2018, covering Brainerd city government and area education, including Brainerd Public Schools and Central Lakes College.
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