Vermillion City Council downgrades plans for Chestnut Street construction

Vermillion City Council downgrades plans for Chestnut Street construction by David Lias Despite pleas from the Clay County Commission and the Vermillion Development Company, the Vermillion City Council affirmed an idea raised last month and agreed to downgrade plans for improvements to Chestnut Street.

The council agreed to dropped its $1.3 million original plan, first adopted in late 2000, that would have widened the road in part by building a large retaining wall between the road and the railroad tracks south of the road.

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 was to be funded by $600,000 of city sales tax revenue, the state of South Dakota, and Vermillion's share of Federal Surface Transportation Program funds.

The lion's share of the cost � approximately $900,000 � was to be used to construct a retaining wall south of Chestnut Street between the railroad tracks. The wall is required by the railroad before the city could pursue its original plan to fill in the slope by the tracks to widen the street to 28 feet.

The project's original design also called for cutting into the bluff on the street's

north side. The maximum cut would have been 11 feet at the back of the proposed curb at a point approximately 200 feet east of Dakota Street.

A number of issues, ranging from safety and lighting to erosion and impact on real estate values, has prompted property owners along Chestnut Street to question the city's plans.

The conflict between citizens and the council grew more heated after the city appraised the property it needed for the street project, and made financial offers to Jeanette Stone, Jim Johnson and Neil and Lynette Melby.

The original Chestnut Street plans call for 9,231 square feet of Stone's property, 2,731 square feet owned by Johnson, and just under 2,100 square feet of the Melbys' property.

Based on appraisals, the city offered Stone $10,800 for her property. Johnson and the Melbys were offered $4,700 and $4,100.

The counter offers made by the property owners greatly exceeded those amounts. Stone countered with an offer of $51,250. The Melbys want $62,500, and Johnson indicated that $25,000 would be a fair price.

It appeared last month that the city may have been ready to obtain the needed property by condemnation.

That likely would have added time and expense to the planning of the street project, however, with the probability of court action to settle any condemnation issues.

After meeting in executive session at a December meeting, the council agreed to explore the possibility of scaling back its plans for the street.

The city's goal now is to improve the street by using practically no private property.

That means condemnation would no longer be an issue, but Jerry Sommervold, chairman of the Clay County Commission, urged aldermen to stick with its original plan.

He noted that much has been done in recent years to improve surface transportation in Clay County. Besides the recent completion of the Newcastle/Vermillion Bridge, the county commission has built a new main street bridge and recently rebuilt the Dawson Bridge.

The county is also working on plans to improve Burbank Road, he said.

The missing link throughout the years, he said, has been Chestnut Street. He expressed concern that the scaled-down version of the road won't adequately or safely serve the needs of farmers, businesspeople and commuters.

John Paulson, president of the Vermillion Development Company board of directors, also voiced support for the original plan. He noted that Chestnut Street improvements is high on the list in the city's comprehensive plan which was adopted last June.

He suggested that perhaps a third party acting as a facilitator could help the city and property owners eventually come to an agreement.

The council opted, however, to change the plan, which could reduce the cost of the street plan significantly � perhaps by nearly $1 million. Aldermen noted those unused funds could then be used to improve other decaying streets in the city.

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