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Homeowners Balk at Pricy Projects During Tough Times

The residents said this year's street-improvement assessments are too costly for the economic environment.

Some neighbors affected by the planned 2012 street repairs object to the city's embarking on a major project while so many still labor under a tough economy.

“People are struggling, and we’re struggling,” Eighth Avenue homeowner Lorri Eiswald said at Tuesday’s public hearing, noting that times have gotten so tough she and her husband have had to cancel their health insurance. “I think there’s an assumption that if you own a home, well, we’ll just tack on a little more.”

Hopkins historically completes one big street project a year covering a handful of streets in a single area.

This year’s project would see major improvements around , including a realignment of Minnetonka Mills Road so that it dead-ends at Ninth Avenue. Planners say . There would also be work on Gethsemane Road and several roads south of Minnetonka Mills.

(For full details, click on the PDFs at the top of the article.)

City policy is for nearby residents to pay 70 percent of street reconstruction costs and half the water service replacement costs—resulting in residential assessments ranging from $2,800 to $5,095 because the city caps assessments if they rise above a certain level.

Non-residential taxpayers, whose assessments are not capped, will pay much more—with Alice Smith likely to be assessed $250,000 and $86,000.

In all, assessments would pay for about $1.1 million of the $3.1 million project.

“Great ideas. Great improvements. But it’s just not a good time,” Eiswald concluded.

Jo Picard, another Eighth Avenue homeowner, also criticized the city for doing such a big project during tough times. Although she felt the project was a done deal as soon as she received a letter notifying her about it, Picard said there are much better places in her home to invest the thousands she’ll have to pay in assessments.

“I can’t afford this—like a lot of other people on my block,” she said.

Mayor Gene Maxwell sympathized with the homeowners, saying, “Nobody can argue it’s not a lot of dollars in today’s world.”

But he added that it’s important for the city to stay on track with its road improvement schedule—even during tough times—so it doesn’t get behind.

Those tough times can even turn out to be the ideal time to embark on the projects because contractors are hungry for the work. Maxwell estimated Hopkins has saved $1.8 million over the past few years because bids came in lower than expected.

Bids probably won’t be as good this year because they’ve been creeping closer to pre-recession levels, City Engineer John Bradford said.

“We’re not exactly getting the same bargain-basement prices we’ve been getting over the past few years,” he said.

In addition to the Minnetonka Mills realignment, the project would rework intersections near Alice Smith and narrow the entrances to discourage multiple lanes of stopped traffic from piling up during pickup and drop-off times.

The project also contains several features that make it safer for children to walk to school, including:

  • So-called “bump-outs” that narrow the street from 38 feet to 24 feet at intersections or pedestrian crossings. This gets pedestrians in front of parked cars, where they can see approaching traffic better, and slows traffic by creating visual chokepoints that make the street appear narrower.
  • Stamped and colored crosswalks that make the crossing more visible to drivers.

Jean Hammond, an Eighth Avenue resident who lives near the school, worried narrowing the road could actually make the situation worse.

“I watch the crazy traffic at Alice Smith every day,” she said.

Bradford noted that the changes do not actually reduce the number of lanes and said the city is working with the school to ensure traffic flows through smoothly.

The project would also include work on the following areas:

  • Gethsemane Road
  • Fourth Street North, between 10th and 11th Avenues North,
  • Ninth Avenue North, between Minnetonka Mills and Third Street North,
  • Third Street North, between Eighth and Ninth Avenues North,
  • Eighth Avenue North, between First and Second Street North and
  • Two alleys. 

Council members approved the project on a 4-0 vote, with Councilwoman Molly Cummings abstaining because her property would be assessed.  The council will vote March 6 on whether to approve final plans, accept bids April 17 and hold a final assessment hearing May 15.

Construction will take place June through October.

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