Archive for Wednesday, October 27, 1999

Misplaced road topic of meeting

October 27, 1999

A meeting of the minds was sought at the Tonganoxie City Council meeting Monday night between the council, developers of North Star Subdivision and the developer of the Sonic Drive-In. Both Sonic and North Star are now under construction.

Representatives were on hand to discuss a problem with Northstar Drive in North Star which has ended up on Sonic property, out of kilter with city specifications.

Following a lengthy discussion with representatives from Sonic and North Star Subdivision the council agreed to recommend the two developers seek a replat of the property involving the road. The replat request would go back to the city's planning and zoning commission, and then come back to the council with a recommendation for final action.

Both groups appeared to agree that replatting the property in question, giving Sonic a variance on the property setback along the road would be the least disruptive solution.

Council members noted, however, that the city could require the developers of North Star to tear up the road and move it to meet the property description, but neither Sonic's developer, Steve Zahn nor North Star's developers, including Lem Evans of Evans Real Estate, seemed to think that would be the most practical solution.

Tonganoxie City Attorney Mike Crow warned the council that, ultimately, "the plat must meet the reality. If nobody does anything, then you've got a problem."

Back in 1997, when the Kansas Department of Transportation was in the process of widening U.S. Highway 24-40 through Tonganoxie, it constructed an access road off the highway, directly across from Tonganoxie High School on the north side of the highway.

At that time, according to Tonganoxie City Administrator Chris Eppley, the North Star Subdivision, in the development phase, had submitted a plat to KDOT requesting that the development be allowed an exit road for its subdivision.

When the road was constructed, Eppley said, the KDOT field engineer apparently decided to move the entrance road 16 feet to the east to align it with the high school drive across the highway.

Mick Halter, representing the KDOT metropolitan office in charge of the U.S. 24-40 project, said the road might have been moved for safety reasons, causing it to line up directly with the Tonganoxie High School entrance drive. The possibility that a stoplight might have to be built in the future would require aligned roadways, he noted.

"It is always safer to have intersecting streets lined up at a 90 degree angle and not offset for any reason,"Halter said. "It just decreases the potential for conflicts of traffic or pedestrians."

He said he was not aware that anyone from either the city, the developer or Sonic had ever approached KDOT with a request for a permit to move the road.

"It is the city's view, although we don't know for sure, that the KDOT engineer decided to move the road to line it up with the high school's entrance across the road, although we don't know why," Eppley said prior to the council meeting.

"At that point, had I been the design engineer for North Star, I would have requested KDOT to move the entrance back to the original position so it would make the development plat line up," Eppley said. "That apparently was not done. Instead, a decision was made, somewhere, by the developers of North Star or their engineer, to simply line up the road with the repositioned entrance, instead of taking the time to request KDOT to move the access."

Don White, engineer for the North Star project, said in retrospect, he should have "raised his hand" when he discovered KDOT had moved the roadway, "but I didn't. If I had it all to do over again, I would have called everybody's attention to it."

The result, Eppley said, has been that the street leading into North Star ended up being built 16 feet off center to the east.

"And as I see it, at that point, the blame shifts from KDOT for moving the access road to the developers who made the decision to go ahead and build it as it is," Eppley said.

When asked why the city didn't catch the mistake earlier in the process, Eppley said the city does not have the staffing, time or expertise, "nor does any city, to go out and re-engineer, re-survey and recheck a project's design."

"We proceed knowing these projects are designed and approved by engineers who are required to be state-licensed professionals," he said. "We rely on them, for their professional engineer's stamp of approval, to meet the requirements."

"The error wasn't found until after Sonic purchased the property and set about finding its property pins, when they discovered a property pin was 'out in the street, under the asphalt,'" Eppley said.

"We had assumed the surveyors and engineers had met their responsibility to assure that the lots were positioned properly," he added.

"We learned of this maybe a week prior to the City Council meeting held Oct. 11," Eppley told The Mirror.

Eppley said the city had no legal right to stop Sonic's construction, because, "according to the legal plat, they are on their property. It's the city infrastructure, the street, built by the developer, that isn't in the right place."

"Whatever we do, we don't have the luxury of messing up in these instances," Eppley said. "It is best in every instance to cross your t's and dot your i's," he said.

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