Don’t ?give’ street project to private housing developer

Don't ?give' street project to private housing developer
Judging from letters to the editor and coverage by the Plain Talk, there are a lot of issues surrounding Crawford Road that are misconceptions. Since the citizens are being asked to settle this issue, they need to be fully informed.

The voters are being asked to decide the following:

1) Should the city build a bypass in the middle of a well established residential neighborhood?

2) Is the new, million-dollar street absolutely needed for Dave Hertz's addition to have access to town?

3) Should Vermillion build and maintain a road with tax dollars to enhance the salability and profitability of a privately owned residential development?

By formulating the questions to frame the basic facts, any reasonable citizen would say no to these questions. All that is needed are an open mind and common sense; no expertise is necessary.

Should the city build a bypass in the middle of an established neighborhood? The planned road is a major collector. It is the north-south thoroughfare for the east side of Vermillion. The required right of way is 80 to 120 feet. There will be a crossing; at the very juncture the ravine road meets the bluff road, at the top of the hill. The signage recommended are stop signs for south Crestview, west Crestview, and Stirling streets. Right of way is designated for Crawford Road extension.

Traffic south of the bluffs, intent on going to Sioux Falls, Sioux City, Minnesota or Iowa would logically take Crawford Road extension from Burbank Road. Crawford on the bluff will be beckoning with a 60-foot span, no stoplights, no stop signs and no cross traffic. The extension of Crawford road will serve as the southeastern bypass around Vermillion � through an established neighborhood!

Make no mistake, this is not a local street. As the initiative petition states, this is an arterial road. And if passed, construction of the road will leapfrog ahead of other projects in the comprehensive plan.

Is a new million-dollar arterial road needed for Hertz's development to have access to town? From Countryside Addition you can be anywhere in town in 5 to 10 minutes. The extension of Crawford Road does not save residents 10 minutes or 10 miles of travel. Vermillion is less than two square miles!

Should a city build and maintain a road using tax dollars to enhance the salability and profitability of a privately owned residential development? Hertz stated that Countryside Addition with 44 units averaging $175,000 ($7.7 million) equals $200,000 in tax revenue for the city (presumably when all lots are sold and houses are built). "The council is shooting themselves in their own feet by not supporting Crawford Road. Without access to Crawford Road, these lots will be harder to develop." (PT 3-31-06)

Former council member and planning commissioner Leo Powell agrees, adding lots will be harder to sell without Crawford Road. Current planning commissioner Scott Schemp stated "we promised him a road." [For the record, the exercise of eminent domain by city government to increase tax revenues is not legal in South Dakota.]

Hertz and cohorts imply that the city (presumably its citizens) are the beneficiary of the housing development. Let's not forget that the lion's shares of profits accrue to the developer, the banker, the housing industry: not the local citizens of Vermillion.

Arguments regarding the positive property tax base impact of a new million-dollar road supporting Hertz's developments are ? baseless. Extending Crawford Road will not create additional tax revenues for Vermillion. This is only possible with population growth � more taxpayers. The census for Vermillion has not changed much for decades. The performance ofCountryside Addition below expectation is likely due to numerous other developments or lots available throughout the city and county. New residents have the option of building on the bluff or below the bluff.

Other issues need to be discussed for clarity. Safety is often mentioned as a reason for the Crawford Road extension. University Street is crowded at 8:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, because of Jolly School. Assuming 100 students per grade, there will be 300 parents/buses dropping or picking up students. Crawford Road will not solve this problem; it is inherent to all roads surrounding schools.

Signage on University should be set up to deny through traffic during these hours. Chestnut was improved precisely for this purpose. Burbank Road was also deemed unsafe. Adding shoulders and curves should be the solution.

Crawford Road extension will not improve safety on Burbank Road. It will actually make Burbank more hazardous as the road will serve as the funnel to the southeast Crawford Road bypass. It is also common sense to conclude that this will be a safety concern for the residents of the southeast ward, all day and every day from the increase in faster moving traffic.

Again for clarity, we need to look at both camps. Those who favor spending a million dollars to bulldoze a road through Crawford Woods, where none exists today, include the developer, the housing industry (proven by the designated business locations for signing the petitions), city engineers, past and present, and the planning commission.

One of the main reasons given in support of the road by Joe Gillen (PT 4-7-06) is the fact that "it has been in the plan since 1965, and our forefathers, before cars were invented, have designated that through streets are to be built along section lines." The worldview of urban design has changed. Most cities today try to design neighborhoods around areas like Crawford Woods, eagerly trading a few out-of-sight routes for the aesthetics of a natural setting. Isn't this the basis for the success of The Bluffs? Homeowners paid premium dollars for the ambiance of a neighborhood nestled in amongst golf course greens. Over 40 years, the physical landscape and the political landscape of the SE neighborhood has changed. City planners need to recognize and respond to this reality.

Planning commission member Scott Schemp told the city council that "we directed Dave Hertz to build south of the bluff." The more logical site should have been, per their own long-standing plan, to fill in vacant land in town and to develop east and north of town. Anderson Street (north of the high school) and Crawford Road (north of Main), will likely remain a farmland in the middle of Vermillion as the development was directed farther east and now, below the bluff. The planning commission is now insisting on a million-dollar road project to redeem a poor decision made years ago.

Those against the Crawford Road extension are us homeowners, mostly in the southeast ward. Paul Hasse stated that "all those opposed to the road have selfish interests" (PT 4-7-06). We could ascribe the exact same sentiment to those pushing for the road. Rest assured that there are lots of citizens in other wards who stand with us as homeowners. Anyone who owns a home must realize that when we buy a home, we also buy the neighborhood. Realtors stress location, location, location. The loss of Crawford Woods for a bypass will certainly cause a degradation of the neighborhood. You all have to agree with is that our homes are the single biggest asset we will ever have in our lifetime.

The city council and mayor have voted against the new road and have withstood a lot of abusive criticism in the process. The decision process included many public hearings, a transportation study (which made no recommendation on the project) and various motions in the STIP plan. There were various council motions, most passed unanimously, that gradually backed away from the project and finally deleted it from the city's comprehensive plan.

This was during the governance by two mayors and two different city councils and occurred over at least four years. As some have suggested, this was not a rash decision by the council. Rather it was a well-reasoned judgement developed over time.

As a designated City of Trees, Vermillion needs to save Crawford Woods for posterity. For the enjoyment of all citizens, a bike path or nature walkway between Burbank and Crestview through the woods would be a precious asset to the city. As a permanent tradeoff, the local property owners would give the city the necessary land for a path. Vermillion would have a million dollars more to spend on needed street improvements, avoid the litigation of condemning private land and save a priceless in-town native woodland forever.

Finally, we would urge all citizens to look at these issues critically. Remember to answer the three questions posed earlier before you vote. Also keep in mind that this is a "taking" from all of us homeowners and a "giving away" to a developer under the guise of "progress to benefit the city." We rely on your sense of justice to make the right decision.

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