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Who's going to plow? Private road in proposed Crow Wing County housing development spurs scrutiny of requirements

Privately built roads that do not meet the construction standards set for township roads are not maintained by township authorities, meaning plowing and other road maintenance is often left up to the individual homeowners.

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.
A private road called Piper Lane is the site of a proposed housing development off Barbeau Road, the preliminary plat for which was under consideration by the Crow Wing County Board Tuesday, July 13, 2021. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch
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County commissioners agreed to table approval of a preliminary plat for a proposed housing development on Barbeau Road Tuesday, July 13, amid larger questions surrounding the use of private roads.

The proposal from Barbeau Road Estates LLC includes 17 2.5-acre lots for homes and three common lots for open space, totaling 78.2 acres along a private road ending in a cul-de-sac. The development as proposed would not require any variances. A tract to the west of the road is set aside for potential future growth of the housing development, environmental services supervisor Jake Frie told the board Tuesday, and the road itself is already paved. The board considered the request while acting as the township board for the First Assessment District, otherwise known as Unorganized Territory.

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Commissioner Rosemary Franzen asked Frie whether the road meets a 66-foot easement requirement expected for township roads, to which Frie replied it did. Further questioning from Commissioner Paul Koering, however, revealed there are likely other characteristics of the private road that would not meet township standards, including the radius of curves, the type of pavement and possibly the state of the roadbed. Without meeting these standards, the township — in this case, the county — would not provide maintenance for the roadway, including snowplowing in the winter.

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A preliminary plat for Barbeau Road Estates shows a proposed housing development along a private road. Map / Crow Wing County

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A map shows the parcels under consideration for a housing development off Barbeau Road in the First Assessment District, otherwise known as Unorganized Territory, outlined in blue. Screenshot / Chelsey Perkins

“If somebody is going to have a plat like this, why wouldn’t we require right off the get-go?” Koering asked. “Because I can see down the road … ”

“It’s going to be a problem,” Franzen interjected.

“It’s going to be a problem, because all these constituents that are here are going to say, ‘I want this to be a township road,’” Koering continued. “And then it’s a struggle after the developer is gone then, to try to get that up to what we expect it to be. Can we require that now? Or should we require that in the future? I just see a potential problem and I’m just trying to head it off.”

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Commissioner Rosemary Franzen speaks during a Tuesday, July 13, 2021, Crow Wing County Board meeting. Screenshot / Chelsey Perkins


Franzen said she believes there should be a special meeting of the transportation advisory committee to discuss a possible change to county ordinances before the board makes decisions on any future preliminary plats.

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“We know this has happened before. We’ve got many roads that we allow the plat to come in, private road, but the people don’t understand that when they buy it,” Franzen said. “They think that we’re going to do something and we just can’t because they aren’t up to our standards.”

County Engineer Tim Bray told commissioners there is not a process in place to correct deficiencies in a roadway to the point where the township would agree to take over its care in the future. But Bray noted the highway department would need to take a closer look at this specific private road included in the development plat to evaluate whether it meets standards.

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A private road called Piper Lane is the site of a proposed housing development off Barbeau Road, the preliminary plat for which was under consideration by the Crow Wing County Board Tuesday, July 13, 2021. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

County Administrator Tim Houle said he agreed with Koering’s position of trying to prevent future headaches.

“Creating roads that are dedicated to the public without any public jurisdiction being responsible to maintain them is going to create problems down the road for whoever buys the lots,” Houle said. “That’s my experience. That’s my experience in Crow Wing County, where we have far too many of these private roadways and they have historically created problems for us.”

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Commissioner Paul Koering speaks during a Tuesday, July 13, 2021, Crow Wing County Board meeting. Screenshot / Chelsey Perkins

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Koering said he guessed the developer would not like the decision of the board to delay approval of the plat contingent on further inspection of the road that could lead to denial, but he said he looked at it as the board being proactive. Houle suggested the board table the decision to allow the highway department to evaluate the road more closely while also giving the developer time to offer solutions, knowing the board was hesitant to offer approval.

Chairman Steve Barrows noted by the time road maintenance becomes an issue, it could be 10 or 20 years later when new people have purchased homes from the original homeowners.

“It isn’t even going to be, in a lot of cases, the original owners — that appreciate that nice, smooth bituminous that’s out there now — that are going to be aggravated when they find out that road doesn’t meet our standards,” Barrows said.

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Environmental services supervisor Jake Frie speaks during a Tuesday, July 13, 2021, Crow Wing County Board meeting. Screenshot / Chelsey Perkins

Bray pointed out if there were an ordinance change to require these roads meet township standards, it’s likely developers would immediately ask for the township to take over ownership of the road. This would effectively eliminate the option for a private road within the First and Second assessment districts, introducing tax levy implications for township property owners.

Koering said he understood that potential, but if it were him purchasing a lot and building a home, he would want the township caring for the road.

“Otherwise all those people are going to have to get organized to say, ‘I want Jimmy Johnson to come plow this road, and we’re each going to have to chip in $100 or $200 a year,’” Koering said. “I wouldn’t want that if I was living there. I just know how this is going to go.”

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“It doesn’t work,” Franzen added. “I’ve got a friend who lives on a private road and even to get it tarred, it finally ended up they have it tarred in front of some of the houses and not the others.”

In a 4-0 vote, the board agreed to table its decision on the preliminary plat to gather more information on the private road from the highway department and developer. Commissioner Doug Houge was absent Tuesday.

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A spec home sits along a paved private road off Barbeau Road, part of a proposed housing development. The Crow Wing County Board tabled a decision on the preliminary plat for the development, citing concerns about continuing to allow the construction of private roads not up to township standards. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

When asked to explain after Tuesday’s meeting how a developer could install a private road without gaining approval for the development as a whole, Houle said it was first built as a driveway to a spec home.

“You can get a permit for a house on a 20-acre tract of land and you want to put a driveway in? Sure, you can put a driveway in,” Houle said. “Now you come back to us with a plat after that and that’s how this can happen. I would say generally speaking — now I’ve been at Crow Wing for 13 years — two or three times every year this issue (private roadway maintenance) crosses my desk.”

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

Related Topics: GOVERNMENT AND POLITICSCROW WING COUNTYCROW WING COUNTY BOARD
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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