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Crow Wing changes private road specs to compel quality construction

Over the years, county officials said there are a number of examples of the county — acting as the township government for the First Assessment District, more commonly known as Unorganized Territory — refusing requests from residents to take over maintenance of private roads because they didn’t conform to standards expected by the highway department.

A narrow paved road goes through a wooded area. At the end of the road is a for sale sign advertising a housing development and a "Piper Ln" road sign.
Piper Lane was the last private road in a platted subdivision receiving Crow Wing County Board approval before a moratorium and a rewriting of the rules. Commissioners approved changes during their Tuesday, April 12, 2022, meeting.
Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch file photo

BRAINERD — Developers with their eye on Crow Wing County’s Unorganized Territory can seek approvals again soon, but they’ll be greeted by stricter road standards and closer engineering oversight.

The County Board on Tuesday, April 12, repealed an interim ordinance establishing a moratorium on new plats to allow staff time to improve regulations on private roads, especially those built within housing developments. Also Tuesday, the board adopted new road construction specifications and approved updates to the county land use ordinance with more detailed requirements related to subdivision development.

Commissioners agreed to the temporary plat prohibition in August 2021 amid mounting concerns over future maintenance headaches for residents living along substandard roadways.

“We wanted to be very specific about the roadway standards in the First Assessment District,” said County Engineer Tim Bray during Tuesday’s meeting. “We want to have good development. We want to have roads that we can take care of that don’t become a liability for the taxpayers or the people that live on that road in terms of safety or access — emergency access — and those types of things.”

Over the years, county officials said there are a number of examples of the county — acting as the township government for the First Assessment District, more commonly known as Unorganized Territory — refusing requests from residents to take over maintenance of private roads because they didn’t conform to standards expected by the highway department. Residents aren’t always aware of the status of a road when they purchase a home, officials said, which can cause problems when it comes time to complete snow maintenance and general upkeep.

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With lax specifications in the past, developers built private roads all over Unorganized and many are falling apart much earlier in their lifespan than is typically expected, Bray said.

“We really want to build long-lasting roads, whether they’re private roads or public roads,” he said.

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The biggest change is a new requirement for a professional engineer licensed in the state of Minnesota to provide the roadway design and cost estimate. Roadways must be constructed to a minimum 7-ton design, meaning the structure of the road, depth of pavement and thickness of gravel underlay supports this weight without being compromised.

Depending on the type of soil on which a road is constructed, these measurements may vary, meaning they cannot be standardized to a specific number — another reason for professional engineering input, Bray noted.

The specifications include some flexibility to handle developments on a case-by-case basis, depending on the road’s intended use and expected traffic counts. Heavier-duty requirements could come into play.

Several changes to the county land use ordinance also support the concept of stricter standards or go hand-in-hand with the highway department changes in Unorganized. When developers apply for a preliminary plat, for example, they must now include road construction plans, a financial assurance to cover the cost of constructing those improvements and a developer’s agreement featuring a road maintenance plan. For a plat application to be considered complete, the county engineer must review and approve the construction plans and assurance amount.

More people looking to split land into smaller lots in Unorganized will be required to go through the plat application process — which is both more public and more rigorous — as opposed to receiving approval of subdivisions by county staff. The ordinance change driving this reduced the number of lots each person is allowed to create administratively to three within a five-year period. And those who receive administrative approval of lot splits must acquire an easement twice the width than previously required — 66 feet as opposed to 33 feet, which accommodates higher roadway standards.

The county also clarified the difference between a driveway and a private road in its ordinance. Driveways, the new definition states, serve one or two lots, while private roads serve more than two.

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This particular matter came up as the board considered the final Unorganized plat it approved before the moratorium: Barbeau Road Estates LLC. A highway department study of that development’s private road — which was built before garnering approvals from the County Board — found it did not meet standards in four areas. It began its life as a driveway to a spec home, County Administrator Tim Houle said at the time.

Following commissioner approval Tuesday, the changes are set to go into effect May 11 with the interim ordinance establishing the moratorium repealing May 12.

CHELSEY PERKINS, community editor, may be reached at 218-855-5874 or chelsey.perkins@brainerddispatch.com . Follow on Twitter at twitter.com/DispatchChelsey .

Chelsey Perkins is the community editor of the Brainerd Dispatch. A lakes area native, Perkins joined the Dispatch staff in 2014. She is the Crow Wing County government beat reporter and the producer and primary host of the "Brainerd Dispatch Minute" podcast.
Reach her at chelsey.perkins@brainerddispatch.com or at 218-855-5874 and find @DispatchChelsey on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
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