Petition drive may have hit a dead end; Weeks: Chestnut not eligible for referendum

Petition drive may have hit a dead end; Weeks: Chestnut not eligible for referendum by David Lias Vermillion citizens hoping to put the brakes on a $1.3 million Chestnut Street improvement project by referring it to a public vote have been knocked off course by a legal opinion.

According to one of the opponents of the street improvement proposal, however, property owners and others affected by the project will continue to review their options.

City Attorney Martin Weeks determined earlier this week that the street project is administrative in nature and not eligible for the referendum process allowed by state law.

By 5 p.m. Jan. 5, petitions with enough signatures to bring the matter to a vote, had it been ruled a legislative issue, were filed at Vermillion City Hall.

The petition states: �We, the undersigned qualified voters of the municipality of Vermillion, petition that the following resolution as passed by the governing board of the municipality, be submitted to the voters for their approval or rejection pursuant to law: Resolution 414-00 which authorizes the city to proceed with the Chestnut Street plan ? adopted by the governing body of the city on Dec. 4, 2000.�

The Vermillion City Council, at its Jan. 2 meeting, authorized Weeks to provide an opinion on the referendum status of the Chestnut Street project after the petitions were filed.

In a Jan. 9 letter to Mayor William Radigan, Weeks noted that Resolution 414-00 �looks back to a previously enacted and now fully effective council decision, the substance of which was to widen and otherwise improve Chestnut Street, to join with the State Department of Transportation in the prosecution of the work and to appropriate the city�s share of construction costs.

�As such, the petitioners� resolution is administrative in nature and is not eligible for the referendum process ?�

Lynette Melby, who owns property along Chestnut Street and is opposed to the present street improvement plan, said Tuesday that Weeks� ruling doesn�t necessarily mean all efforts to change the project will stop.

�We were told by our attorney that he felt that it (the project) was referable,� she said. �At this point in time, what I assume we will do is get back in touch with our attorney and if he feels that we do have a strong basis on going forward on this, then we certainly will find out what our alternatives are.�

Melby may also attend the next city council meeting Jan. 15.

�I understood from one of the council people that at the meeting this coming Monday night the council may vote on whether to have a referendum or not,� she said. �If I go to the meeting, it will mainly be to stress that if they are going to vote on allowing the referendum, I want them to be sure to separate in their own minds that this would be a vote on letting the people of Vermillion have some input into this issue versus whether they support or don�t support Chestnut Street.�

The Vermillion City Council agreed Dec. 4 to seek bids for the street

improvement project that may cost as much as $1.3 million.

Concerns were voiced at that time by property owners and by Alderman Barbara Yelverton on such issues as the project�s cost, traffic numbers, safety, lighting and the project�s possible impact on the environment and nearby�property owners.

The council eventually decided to approve a motion to proceed with the Chestnut Street improvement project, and in its bid documents for the work, include the street�s lighting as a bid alternate.

The portion of street under scrutiny is approximately one-half mile in length, and provides a link between Dakota and University streets.

The estimated $1.3 million price tag for the project will be funded by $620,000 of the city�s second penny sales tax revenue and $691,000 of Federal Aid To Urban (FAU) funds.

�The state is allowing us to draw down on our federal allocation ahead of time,� City Manager Jeff Pederson told the Plain Talk last week. �That means there is more FAU money and less second penny sales tax (from the city) going into the project.�

It also means the second penny sales tax revenue not spent on Chestnut Street can be used elsewhere in the city, he said.

�Other projects being earmarked for second penny sales tax funds can then be done sooner,� Pederson said.

The lion�s share of the cost of the Chestnut Street project � approximately $900,000 � will be used to construct a retaining wall south of the street between the railroad tracks. The wall is required by the railroad before the city can fill in the slope by the tracks to widen the street to 28 feet.

If a concrete slab is placed on the existing grade without filling in by the tracks, the slab would only be 15 feet wide which wouldn�t provide for two lanes of traffic.

The project�s design also calls for cutting into the bluff on the street�s north side. The maximum cut is 11 feet at the back of the proposed curb at a point approximately 200 feet east of Dakota Street.

�I just think it would show such good faith by the council if they would allow a vote on this,� Melby said.

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