By BRIAN BULLOCK
People walking through areas of Brookings will spend part of their time on concrete sidewalks and other times walking in the street or in dirt.
It's a situation city leaders are determined to fix, especially in high-traffic school zones where children are sometimes forced to share the road with speeding cars and trucks.
"For the safety factor alone, we have to do something about this," Brookings Mayor Bob Hagbom Monday told a joint workshop meeting of the City Council and Planning Commission.
The reason some streets feature sidewalks and many don't is simple: Brookings is an old town with much of the development occurring prior to zoning ordinances.
Older homes and businesses weren't required to install gutters, curbs or sidewalks. Nowadays, they are.
The result is a patchwork quilt of sidewalks, dirt paths and open storm drains. And in some cases, the sidewalks lead directly to those open drains.
Councilor Lorraine Kuhn said she was surprised the city hasn't already had a serious accident involving some of the patchwork sidewalks or open ditches.
Even since zoning ordinances have been developed, builders and property owners could avoid the costly installation of street improvements by entering a Deferred Improvement Agreement (DIA).
The agreement essentially allows a property owner or builder to develop a house without installing street improvements if they agree to install those improvements when the city says it's time to do it.
"Calling in" the DIAs has happened so rarely that not many in the current city government could remember such an instance.
But the city, to remedy what it perceives as dangerous pedestrian traffic conditions, is in the process of drafting a policy and amendments to ordinances that will allow it to call in DIAs and have storm drains, gutters, curbs and sidewalks installed throughout Brookings.
City leaders are exploring the use of federal grant money to pay for the improvements. But City Manager Leroy Blodgett said even if the city is granted the money to pay for the projects, it wouldn't see the funds for at least a year. That won't do, according to city leaders.
"I can assure you you will not see those open ditches when school starts next year," Hagbom said. "It would probably be advantageous for us to wait three to four months for grant money, but we can't wait for school to start."
The council and city staff targeted Pioneer Street between Easy and Hassett streets as the most urgent need.
Blodgett said there are four city funds that could be tapped for street improvement projects: regular streets fund, general reserve fund, system replacement fund, and system development fund.
Of the four, the systems replacement fund, which is built by incremental deposits from city utility bills specifically for such projects, has the most money for the street improvements: approximately $150,000.
However, the city manager said the city can't deplete its funds too much because it is on a tight budget and sometimes matching funds are needed to acquire grants.
"We don't want to deplete our funds in case the grant money doesn't come through," Blodgett said.
No matter where it gets the funds to make street improvements, it is time to tighten up the city's relatively lax DIA policy, the council determined.
That means calling in some of the agreements to make street improvements. It also means making some decisions that many constituents won't like.
"Obviously, it's going to be an unpopular thing and somebody is going to have to be the invisible man and do it," City Councilor Rick Dentino said. "We have to do it. At some point we have to decide to do it citywide."
The planning commissioners all backed the idea of not issuing any more DIAs except in special circumstances. Some of those circumstances might include not requiring street improvements on streets where no other gutters, curbs or sidewalks exist. Or not requiring a DIA on a street that might never be paved or developed.
"I'm a developer," said Planning Commission Chairman Randy Gorman. "I build houses. Personally, I think you're letting us off pretty darn easy."
Gorman said if streets were engineered in advance of any potential development, builders would know what is expected before any dirt on a project is turned.
Commissioner Tom Davis said the city needed a triggering mechanism that would require street improvements when any alterations are made to a property or title is changed.
"The (older streets) will never be taken care of if we don't tie (street improvements) into changes of ownership," Davis said.
Commissioner Craig Mickelson said infill, the development of currently vacant city lots, would solve some of the problems but create others. He said currently builders are looking for any land in the area that's easy to build upon and a great deal of that land is around the schools.
"The infill, as it starts to occur, will cause a piecemeal situation," he said. "Two new developments will feed into Pioneer (Street) and have an effect on it."
Blodgett said issuing DIAs where individual homes were developed and street improvements were made has created other problems.
"Right now, we're pretty much locked into a 36-foot wide street (on Pioneer) because there's sidewalks on both sides. Without DIAs, you have a bit more flexibility. There's no perfect answer," the city manager said.
The answer, the council and commission decided, is to write a policy stating the city will not issue any more DIAs and they will only be issued through Planning Commission decisions.
The city will also write amendments to the appropriate city ordinances, review the work in another workshop and decide when to call in the existing DIAs.