Archive for Wednesday, October 17, 2007

4th Street sidealk placement splitting neighbors

October 17, 2007

Next week's decision on where to put the sidewalk along Fourth Street rests on the shoulders of the Tonganoxie City Council, but some residents fear it's too late to keep the sidewalk where it was originally planned.

At the Oct. 8 council meeting, Tonganoxie Mayor Mike Vestal said the council finally would decide to move forward with the third phase of Fourth Street improvements at Monday's meeting.

While opponents of a sidewalk on the north side of the street between Village Street and the Fourth Street bridge have been making their voices heard at several council meetings and workshops, Fourth Street residents who wanted the city to stick with the initial plan of a north side sidewalk are fading out of the limelight.

Doug Bennett, a 20-year resident of Fourth Street, said he stopped going to the meetings because he would often get too agitated and emotional with the discussions.

"I'm fighting a losing battle," Bennett said. "I know that there are three households that got this project the way it is right now, but the rest of us can't get rallied together."

The current plan for the sidewalk along Fourth Street from the South Park subdivision to downtown has a crossing from the north side of the street to the south side at Village Street.

This plan was developed after more than a year of discussion between the two groups and the council that has taken up hours of council meetings.

While discussions were usually quiet and orderly, at times they got heated.

Velda Roberts, a former council member, said at one point there were around 30 people who attended a council meeting to discuss the placement of the sidewalk. With tension and emotions running high, "it just went ballistic and just exploded from there."

"When you have 30 people who say it needs to be on the north side then to knuckle under to three people, to me, is an absolute disgrace," Roberts said.

Since then the number of residents in favor of keeping the sidewalk on the north have all but disappeared from the council chambers, allowing residents like Duane Nible, who lives on the north side of Forth Street, and more recently Pat Sparks, who owns agricultural land on the south side, just west of the bridge, to get the council to continue redrawing the plans.

Before she was elected into a council seat Paula Crook was also a vocal advocate of putting the sidewalk on the south side.

She said she and Nible were worried about the city encroaching too far into their property to build the new sidewalk and that many of the proponents for a north sidewalk lived in the South Park subdivision, or west of the Fourth Street bridge, where there was more space for a wider street and a sidewalk.

"This is an old neighborhood; you can't try to squeeze city policies in old neighborhoods," Crook said.

Because she is a resident of the affected area, Crook will not sit out the vote on any policies regarding the street. Crook has temporarily removed herself from her council seat during meetings to join in on Fourth Street discussions.

Cody Edwards, who lives east of Village Street on Fourth Street, used to attend the meetings with his wife, but he said scheduling conflicts have prevented him from going recently.

He said he is still in favor of keeping the sidewalk on the north side. He understands people's property concerns, but he said selfish reason's shouldn't prevent a sidewalk that would keep people safe on the street.

"I'm willing to do whatever it takes just to make it happen, even if that means moving part of the sidewalk to the south side," Edwards said. "It sounds ridiculous to me, but if it gets the project done I'm willing to concede."

Both sides know that the council decision will end up making some of them unhappy, but Bennett said the damage to that part of Tonganoxie has already been done.

"It's not a very friendly neighborhood anymore. You walk around and people glare at you. We haven't gotten to hand gestures yet," Bennett said. "I never could have thought it would have come to this."

Phase one of improvements on Fourth Street finished three years ago with the geometric improvements to the street from U.S. Highway 24-40 to Church Street. Phase two finished two years ago with improvements between Church and Green streets.

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