The proposal seemed simple enough. County Commissioner Paul Koeper appeared before the Board of Aldermen several months ago and said there were 17 roads that dodge in and out of Jackson city limits, requiring both the City and the County to maintain various sections of the same road. He said if the City acquired the right of way, the County would like to improve their sections of those roads and donate them to the City so County crews would no longer have to maintain parts of them.
The aldermen were delighted at the idea of receiving sections of roadway at no cost to the City.
However, the devil is in the details. “It’s just a mess,” said Alderman Larry Cunningham during study session July 7. He has been meeting with Koeper since that time.
County roads are not owned by the County. The roads are built on easements granted to the county by land-owners. The City owns its roads. In order for the City to take over the portions of roads in the county, it has to purchase the land the road rests upon, plus additional rights of way. That will require negotiations with land-owners, and the use condemnation if landowners are unwilling to sell the portion of land needed.
Some of the aldermen seemed hesitant to resort to condemnation. Alderman Joe Bob Baker said he will vote against any condemnation. But he has just one voice out of eight aldermen.
Cunningham told the aldermen that some landowners will not sell to the City except through the condemnation process. If the aldermen are unwilling to use condemnation, then there’s no need to spend city money on engineering for the project.
City Administrator Jim Roach reminded the Board of Aldermen that while condemnation does involve a “taking” of property, it is “not without compensation.”
City Attorney Tom Ludwig described the lengthy legal process of condemnation. It involves negotiations between the landowners and City officials. If a price is not agreed upon, the matter can go before three commissioners who will set the price. If their price is unacceptable, the matter can be taken to a jury trial and jurors are asked to set the price. “There are a great many protections for property owners,” said Ludwig.
Alderman Paul Sander said that, as a rule, he is not in favor of condemnation. However, the County’s offer provides an opportunity for the betterment of Jackson at the County’s expense. “It serves the City’s interest to proceed with condemnation.”
Another problem is that the best county roads are built to a standard that is 10 inches thick. The City has several different standards of thickness, but the lowest standard is 14 inches thick. Several aldermen have balked at the idea of accepting portions of roadways that are built to a lower standard than other city streets. It means those sections may not last as long and may need to be repaired sooner, costing city taxpayers more money in the long run.
City and County officials are slowly working through the issues. They started with Harmony Lane, on the northern edge of Jackson, near Deerwood Drive. This has the longest stretch of roadway in the county. City officials felt that once the problems are solved regarding this road, precedents will be set, making land transfers on the other 16 roads much easier.
Residents who live along Harmony Lane came to the July 7 Board of Aldermen study session to express concerns and get more information about the project.
It was difficult for the City to provide a lot of specific answers to questions because the project is in its very early stages. No engineering has been done to determine exactly how much of each property along Harmony Lane will be affected.
The City will require 50 feet of right of way for the entire roadway. Generally speaking, that will be 25 feet on each side of the road from the center line. It doesn’t mean the road will be 50 feet wide, but there must be accommodations made for water runoff (shoulders, ditches, etc.).
Dana Lathum expressed concerns about the right-of-way coming too far into her yard. She also said traffic already drives too fast on the road. If the road is widened, “it will be a raceway.”
It was noted that once the City owns the entire road, the city police can better police the entire road.
Elaine Stone said her family has spent the last few years improving the property. “This makes us not want to invest another dime,” she said. Losing that much frontage could reduce her property value, she said.
She also wants to keep the “country charm” that drew her to that area.
Mike Schwarting also had concerns about the right of way moving 25 feet into his property. He was told that the roadway itself will only be widened 3 feet into his property.
The Aldermen were asked to express their feelings about the project before proceeding. Cunningham reiterated that he did not want to spend money on engineering if the aldermen were not prepared to go through with the pro-ject, including condemnation if necessary.
Alderman Katy Liley said the road needs improving and is not currently safe. “I think we need to move forward.” She was, however, opposed to compromising on the thickness of the road.
Alderman David Reimin-ger agreed with Liley. He saw development coming to that area in the years to come, and the roadway needs improving. The City should “bite the bullet” and improve the road now, but he did not want to compromise on the specifications for roadway construction.
“I’m not against the project, but I will not vote to condemn,” stated Aldermen Joe Bob Baker.
Alderman Dave Hitt said Reiminger “hit the nail on the head” and added, “The area will continue to grow. We may as well do it now.”
“We want to make the best possible road we can,” said Alderman Wanda Young. “We have a partner now. We can clean up who fixes the road and who polices it. We want to make it better for you,” she told the residents.
The next step is for City and County officials to sign a memorandum of understanding.
After that, a preliminary survey will be done to stake out the project. That could take up to 90 days. Then residents will then know exactly how their properties will be affected.
Then a public meeting will be held.