A bike path and recreational trail that was planned to be a part of hit a roadblock Tuesday night as many residents spoke against it during the Common Council meeting. After subsequent discussion on the council, the plan was deferred to the Public Works Committee for further review.
Neighbors cited the loss of trees, traffic concerns, diminishing property values and flooding and runoff issues as reasons to kill the path.
Judith Stenzel, who lives in the area, told the Common Council in a public input session, "our land will be interrupted; traffic is already a concern, and the addition of a bike path will lead to more traffic." She also said she could forsee future lawsuits stemming from any accidents that occur, and said it was an "unfair situation to have our land taken away."
"I can't envision the merits of cutting these trees down," said Ron Lawler, who lives in the area as well. "I don't see how it improves safety. As I see the depth of these ditches (along the route), we're putting these paths right on the edge of them, which doesn't make it any safer."
Resident Diane Stern called the plan "too expensive, and a misuse of taxpayer dollars," as well as echoing concerns over speeding traffic, especially concerning Tess Corners Fire Department vehicles. (The fire department is also located on the road.)
However, there were a couple of residents who came out to support the rec path.
"I'm so excited for this path going in - you would be amazed at how much they are used. However, they are scattered and aren't connected," said Linda Johnson. "As long as Tess Corners Drive is being constructed, it makes sense to put it in. We have to look at the greater good of the community."
Rob Glazier, resident and member of the Community Development Authority, asked the council about the future impact of killing the path. "If we're to halt this path, we have a larger plan in place for rec paths, so I would like to know if this would affect those other plans as well."
During council discussion, Alderman Kert Harenda wondered if the five-year plan from the Parks and Recreation Department should be revisited in its entirety to avoid further conflicts every time projects like this are proposed. Although an informational meeting was held on the project and the public had an opportunity to review the plans in December 2011, he thought there was room for improvement.
"We could improve on the communication when we are developing these plans, so people don't feel like they aren't getting informed," he said. However, he also reminded residents that they needed to be open to compromise and realize that the areas where trees will be taken out are part of the right of way.
"Plans are guidelines," agreed Alderman Rob Wolfe, who is a new alderman in the 1st District where the project is located. "They should be able to be changed, especially if people have concerns."
Mayor Kathy Chiaverotti pointed out that 82 residents from which is in the same area, had expressed their support during a meeting she attended there. An additional 30 emails from other residents were also received by Dave Simpson, city engineer, in favor of the project.
Simpson also explained that off road construction of the path is only $81,000 versus $250,000 for a path that would be an extended shoulder of the roadway. The difference in cost comes in because of subsoil issues in the road that require deeper digging (3-4 feet) in the roadway. Off-road paths would not require such excavation, he explained.
There is already $80,000 invested in the project, and further delay in making a decision, or moving the path on-road, could push the entire road project into the next year. For the most part the council agreed that changes now would cost more money, but some felt that it was more important to avoid repeated debate.
"I guess I'd rather spend the extra money if it helps to address the concerns of everyone," said Alderman Dan Soltysiak. "I'd rather get it right and review all of the alternatives."
Alderman Neil Borgman said while he was sympathetic to the concerns over the loss of old trees, he reminded them that the trees were in the city's right of way. He stated he was in favor of the plan, and that "it seems that people are accepting of these plans until they see the flags go up in front of their homes and see just how much property is in the city's right of way."
A motion to amend the plan to move the path on-road and delay road construction to 2013 was defeated 4-2 (Wolfe and Harenda voting yes). However, another motion from Soltysiak was made to defer the matter back to the Public Works Committee to explore alternate designs resulted in a tie vote.
With Alderman Neome Schaumberg absent, it was up to Chiaverotti to break the tie, and she voted along with Soltysiak, Harenda and Wolfe and to defer the matter.
"There are times where you have to be a leader, and I feel that as Alderman Wolfe is new to the council and has just had this issue put before him, that I will follow his lead and vote to defer this," she said.