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Baxter City Council: Memorywood Drive project proposals incite debate

Lon Schmidt expresses his opinion during the public information meeting to discuss improvements to Memorywood Drive Wednesday, Sept. 19, at Baxter City Hall. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch1 / 2
People at the public information meeting to discuss improvements to Memorywood Drive participate in an informal vote on options presented Wednesday, Sept. 19, at Baxter City Hall. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch2 / 2

BAXTER—When it comes to plans for Memorywood Drive, the people have spoken—their verdict is split down the middle between two options, with a resounding rejection of a third.

Roughly 60 people gathered at an informational meeting Tuesday, Sept. 19, at Baxter City Hall. The subject of the meeting—the proposed 2019 improvements project for Memorywood Drive—incited a great deal of discussion and, judging by an informal hand vote, resulted in a nearly perfect 50/50 split between two options—the first suggestion, Option A, as well as a proposal made during the course of the meeting, Option C.

At the same time, judging by this hand vote and comments made by the Baxter City Council, it is neither the will of Baxter residents, nor their elected officials, to pursue plans to reconstruct the road in an expansive, ultimately more invasive and expensive manner—Option B.

Those who attended voted in favor of less far-reaching measures, though they differed in how to go about with smaller changes. It will be up to the council to ultimately determine which direction the city takes in the next 45-60 days and it will actively seek input from the public in the meantime.

Originally constructed in 1989, Memorywood Drive is in an aging state of disrepair, evidenced not only by the condition of the roadway, but also by failing culverts and storm sewer lines, inadequate amenities (in particular, for drainage on the numerous residential properties adjoining the road), as well as limited room for pedestrians (both bikers and walkers).

Aric Welch, a civil engineer at Widseth Smith Nolting and the supervising architect of the project, gave a presentation on the two main options presented to the public, based on plans and research conducted by the city and contractors. A third informal option was added during the course of the meeting and voted upon as well.

Option A

Option A would entail a full-depth reclamation. This means crews would reconstruct the roadway—essentially, chewing up the current roadway into a 7 1/2-inch layer of base material, with an additional 4 inches of bituminous pavement poured on top.

This would leave the road at 34 feet wide, though it would be reconstructed in a way that retains two 11-foot through lanes, as well as two 6-foot bike lanes. The plan would include the reconstruction of adjoining driveways to match the new height of the road, as well as removing existing driveways at the point of right-of-way. The plan also includes adding "No Parking" signs and would entail some property acquisition for site corners at Clearwater Road.

Estimated cost: $2,148,210 (with $1,238,490 for the roadway, $423,200 for storm sewer and $486,520 for city sanitary, sewer and water). For Option A, 61 percent of these costs would be funded by the city, while 38.1 percent would be assessed to property owners on Memorywood Drive.

In terms of drainage improvements, Option A includes:

• A new storm sewer system and treatment basin located 600 feet north of Highway 210, with overflow into Baxter Lake.

• Replacement of existing culverts and storm sewer located under Memorywood Drive with reinforced concrete pipe.

• Installation of new sump manholes in existing storm sewer system to help with stormwater treatment.

• Installation of hydrodynamic separators and construction of filtration swales at White Sand Lake outlets near Travine Way and Cedar Scenic Road.

• Extension of existing storm sewer system at Cedar Scenic Road to Circle Road.

• Removal of a rain garden and extending the existing storm sewer system west of the White Sand Lake boat landing.

Option B

Option B would entail removing existing roadway and driveways—31 feet of wide urban roadway, or two 11-foot through lanes and curbs, two gutters, as well as a 5-foot bike lane. The pavement would include a 5-inch aggregate base and 4 inches of bituminous pavement poured on top. A 10-foot-wide paved bituminous walking trail would also be included on the side.

Notably, this option would be expansive—requiring private utility relocation and additional right of way, as well as 7 feet of right of way to be acquired on each side of the roadway to create an 80-foot corridor. Property and easement acquisition would be necessary for five proposed stormwater basins and overflow.

Estimated cost: $5,679,940 (with $2,561,280 for the roadway, $769,970 for the trail, $1,698,460 for storm sewer and $484,450 for city sanitary, sewer and water). For Option B, about 85 percent of these costs would be funded by the city, while 14.6 percent would be assessed to property owners on Memorywood Drive.

In terms of drainage improvements, Option B includes:

• New storm sewer system and treatment basin located: 600 feet north of Highway 210, with overflow into Baxter Lake; 950 feet north of Oak Street, with overflow into nearby wetland; 330 feet north of Travine Way, with overflow into White Sand Lake; 330 feet north of Cottage Grove Terrace, with overflow into White Sand Lake; and at Cedar Scenic Road, with overflow into White Sand Lake.

• Extension of the storm sewer system west of the boat landing and at Clearwater Road, and installation of a hydrodynamic separator.

Option C

The informal proposal, Option C, would entail reconstructing the roadway and realigning the lanes, but leaving Memorywood Drive in its current corridor and footprint. Currently, the road is 34 feet wide, with 11-foot through lanes, as well as an 8-foot paved shoulder along the west side and a 4-foot paved shoulder on the east side of the road. It has a 66-foot-wide right of way over most of the roadway corridor, while it features a 73-foot right of way between Highway 210 and Oak Street.

No cost estimates or particulars could be presented at the meeting.

Irrespective of which plan the city chooses, Welch identified five forms of funding the city could utilize to pay for the project—via the property tax, a local option sales tax, municipal state aid, special assessments of adjoining properties and franchise fees.

Crowd responses

Overwhelmingly, attendees backed Option A and Option C with a roughly 50/50 parity between the two, while Option B garnered one vote in favor.

Concerns raised by attendees often revolved around the loss of property by the roadway expansion entailed by Option B—stumping driveways short and shrinking lawns, as well as potentially removing landscaping and other ornamentation by residents to accommodate the expanded road and new trail.

Gary Radke, a resident of Memorywood Drive, summed up the voiced sentiments of many when he said he would not vote for Option B—not for himself, but for neighbors that may be affected by loss of property as the result of property acquisition.

"I read about space being taken from people, for plan B. I think all of us have to bite the bullet on ourselves and say that's not fair to those people," Radke said. "I really think it's a shame to think that—I don't know who said they barely have room to park their car. It doesn't bother me, I have 60 feet of driveway, but there's a lot of people it's going to affect."

Council member Todd Holman said it would take a lot to shift his support from Option A on the grounds of finances—a significant jump in costs to fund Option B, he noted, which will carried by all the residents of Baxter.

"That cost is really significant and it's a cost citywide and it's a cost long-term," Holman said.

In addition, attendees raised concerns for walking and biking pedestrian safety (predominantly the related issue of no sidewalks in the area, exacerbated by fast-moving traffic).

They noted dangerous intersections—notably, at Highway 210 and Memorywood, as well as Cedar Scenic Road and Memorywood—poor and inefficient parking arrangements, damage claims, property acquisition rates and chronic drainage issues not identified by project heads.

Gabriel Lagarde

Whether it's your local city council, all the way up to the Governor's office, government plays a part in every aspect of your life. It's important that the people you elect reflect your needs, your values and your vision, and that's why I'm out covering the people and issues that matter, because they matter to you. But it takes time and resources to dig deeper than face value, to capture the whole picture and do the due diligence, so consider subscribing to the Brainerd Dispatch. Your news. Your reporter. Your paper.  To help support local journalism, click here to sign up to receive a Dispatch digital subscription to our e-edition or to receive the printed paper at your door, or to get both.

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