City, landowners reach agreement on land for street

City, landowners reach agreement on land for street by David Lias Action taken during an executive session at Monday's Vermillion City Council meeting marked the end of a controversial, sometimes bitter dispute between private property owners and the city.

Neil and Lynette Melby and Jeanette Williams came to terms with city leaders following weeks of mediation.

They have agreed to sell the city portions of their private property needed to complete the Chestnut Street improvement project.

City Manager James Patrick and City Attorney Jim McCulloch represented the city in negotiations with Williams and the Melbys.

The Vermillion Conflict Resolution Center was the catalyst for reaching the agreement.

In a prepared statement, the city acknowledged that mistakes were made which led to hard feelings and mistrust on both sides.

"Hopefully, this agreement is the start of a new and better relationship," Patrick said.

The city will pay the Melbys $16,110 and Williams $27,280 for compensation in the land dispute.

The city and Chestnut Street landowners also reached resolution on other issues that are in the mutual best interest of all parties.

According to Monday's statement, the parties agreed to engage with each other as collaborators on this issue as well as future issues.

Together, the landowners and city agree that collaborative approaches to problem solving will help secure a better future for the Vermillion community.

Mayor Roger Kozak noted that a great deal has been learned from this experience which will be used to help guide future discussions of public projects that directly affect citizens.

"The plain fact is that the city does not want to fight with any citizens in the manner that developed over Chestnut Street," he said. "The city regrets the level of negativity associated with this issue and the impact that negativity had on the landowners."

Patrick also was disappointed that the street project became such a contentious issue.

"My office and the city council wish to move the community forward with the support of its citizens and will do whatever we can within reason to insure that future conflicts like this do not occur," he said.

Both Patrick and Kozak noted that efforts by a citizens' committee to develop consensus over the city hall renovation/relocation project is an example of the city taking a fresh approach to reach common ground on controversial topics.

"There, and in other public deliberations, we are working with citizens in advance of taking action," Patrick said.

He noted that this progressive approach should characterize Vermillion city politics in an effort to avoid conflict with citizens and plan for Vermillion's future.

The Chestnut Street controversy began approving not long after the city passed a resolution calling for improving the half-mile, unimproved portion of the street east of Dakota Street in lower Vermillion.

Proponents of the project claimed the street improvements were needed to complete the infrastructure below the

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bluff to compliment Burbank Road, Broadway Street, the Dawson Bridge, and the general flow of traffic between east and west Vermillion.

This improvement, they noted, will also enhance the further use of Chestnut Street for trucks and buses. The improvement on Chestnut will be integrated as a main link from east to west, they said.

Affected landowners and other critics of the plan stated that the proposed $1.3 million project (according to December 2000 estimates) was too costly and could be better spent to complete other needed projects in the city.

They also expressed worries about dangers associated with a retaining wall that is included with the project, and possible erosion and other detrimental effects of the street project design on the bluff above Chestnut.

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