CITY PLANS FOCUS ON IMPROVING STREETS

October 06, 2001 12:00 am

The Brookings City Council and Planning Commission moved closer to banning as many Deferred Improvement Agreements in the future as possible in a joint workshop Tuesday evening.

The agreements allow developers to postpone putting in sidewalks, curbs and other street improvements.

Members of the council and commission have come to the conclusion, during several meetings, that issuing the agreements can at least appear political, and calling them in has proved to be nearly impossible.

Residents can vote to establish Local Improvement Districts and have the improvements done in an entire street segment at once, but members agreed that hasnt happened in the past and is unlikely to in the future.

City Manager Leroy Blodgett, Planning Director John Bischoff and their staff recommended issuing deferred agreements for all residential developments.

By accepting the agreements, the developers and future property owners would have waived their rights to vote no in Local Improvement District elections.

The city could then stipulate that when 67 percent of the properties in a street segment had the agreements, the segment would automatically become a Local Improvement District.

City staff presented the council and planning commission with a detailed report on how the plan would work.

They also displayed a map showing areas with deferred improvements in orange. Areas so delineated appeared to cover more than a third of the city.

Members told Blodgett and Bischoff, however, that they were basically barking up the wrong tree.

Planning Commission Chairman Richard Gyuro and others said they were more concerned about not issuing any more agreements than they were about calling in the old ones.

They directed Blodgett and his staff to come up with criteria for denial of deferred improvements that could stand up in a court of law.

Blodgett apologized for misunderstanding the councils direction. He believed the staff had been directed to find the best solution to calling in outstanding agreements.

Members also discussed whether people even wanted street improvements or not.

Gyuro said some people prefer a more country setting, even in city neighborhoods.

Then the government comes in and says they have to put in curbs and gutters, he said. How far do we want to force residents of this city to improve their front yards?

Planning commission member Russ Fritz disagreed and said some people want sidewalks.

Member Ted Freeman said others want no further taxes or improvements.

There is a mood in the city and county not to pay more taxes, said Gyuro. More than in many other places.

Members also discussed having developers post bonds for the major portion of deferred improvements, or having the city do the engineering at its own expense.

Blodgett said most cities were facing the same issue. He said there is no perfect solution.

Freeman estimated the cost of improvements to each property to be less than $5,000, which he said would be really cheap for a contractor to do.

Gyuro said he was against delaying improvements. If we wait for the 67 percent, he said, were farther out.

Blodgett said the staff was originally against issuing any more deferred agreements, but wondered why improvements should be mandated where the couplet will come through.

Gyuro said there will always be some valid exceptions, such as topography and elevation issues.

Planning commission member Vikki Nuss said it might be better if contractors understood that improvements were just a part of doing business in Brookings.

Bischoff said exceptions should be defined objectively with clear criteria.

Blodgett agreed that the council and planning commission would need recommendations on criteria from the professional staff.

Gyuro said the goal was to issue no more deferred agreements, where possible.

Mayor Bob Hagbom agreed. He said the council wants to reduce the amount of deferred improvements where possible. He said it might have gone too far in saying it would issue no more agreements.

Look at the map, said City Councilor Larry Curry. The city will have to dig in its pockets at some point to fix what has happened in the past. If we issue more, we will compound the problem in 10 or 15 years.

If people dont want to pay taxes up front, he said, look at the cost of deferring the problem.

Later that evening, however, the commission approved a lot partition and required yet another Deferred Improvement Agreement as a condition of approval.

City Councilor Lorraine Kuhn said some streets in the city are in sad shape. She said the council would also have to face problems when it annexes land in the new Urban Growth Boundary.

Hagbom said the major developments there would be constructed with curbs and sidewalks.

Blodgett agreed. He said most of what is annexed will be new developments with improvements, or neighborhoods that are already developed.

Gyuro said the issue of when to call in existing agreements will be a political football.

Its human nature, he said. If you dont have to pay now, you delay. It will take a little fortitude to say it is cheaper to do now.

They agreed to hold another joint work session on the issue next month.