Controversy continues

Stakes are up and a tree has been removed at a residence on the east side of the Turner County Fairgrounds to make way for sidewalks that must be installed, according to city ordinance. photo/Sarah Ebeling

Sarah Ebeling | Managing Editor

The continuing issues       regarding the sidewalks in Parker was the main topic of discussion at Monday night’s city council meeting. 

Dale Peters, who lives on Grace Avenue spoke to the council, explaining that Max Masters had put together three different options and will bring the formal plan to the August meeting. 

After moving on to talk about other city issues, council member Lance Nogelmeier asked to go back to the sidewalk discussion. He told the council that the residents of Grace Avenue were supposed to bring their plan to the city this month. 

“Can we discuss this,” asked Nogelmeier. 

“He’s not here,” said Mayor Ron Nelson about many of the residents who live on Grace, explaining they were working on a plan and would bring it in August. 

Nogelmeier said that they were supposed to bring the plan this month, and that is what was agreed on last month. 

“Am I right or not,” asked Nogelmeier. 

“Yes. You are,” answered council member Roxie Harms. 

“They are not here with a plan. We need to get this figured out,” said Nogelmeier. 

Council member Peggy Berens noted that they gave the residents a year extension. 

Harms said that yes, they were given an extension, but they did say they would have a plan for the city this month. 

Nelson said when Peters got up and said they were working on a plan, nobody said anything. 

“We could have said, ‘Hey, you were supposed to bring a plan this month,’” said Nelson. “They are under the impression they can bring it in next month.” 

Nogelmeier told Nelson to call Peters and have him return to the meeting so they could get things figured out. 

Street superintendent Mike Jorgensen noted that he too would like to get things figured out. 

“I have cut down and pulled more trees in the last couple weeks than I care to talk about and if I am going to be changing it for someone else to save their trees, I’d like to be honest with these people that we are not tearing their trees out. So I would like to get it decided so I am not misrepresenting the stance of the city on these sidewalks,” said Jorgensen. 

He noted he would like an opinion from city attorney Drew Duncan on how things should be handled. 

Duncan told the council that he will tell them what he has already told them five plus times. He explained that the city has subdivision regulations and in order to do something different than those regulations, it may require a variance. 

“I may have to look to make sure,” said Duncan. 

He noted that if that is the case, then it needs to go to planning and zoning before it would go before the council. Duncan continued, explaining that the residents on Grace Avenue should have known about the ordinances in place in regards to sidewalks needing to be put in and that it was also in their covenants when they bought the lots. He said that he believes the council can grant plans in regards to sidewalks which would be different than the subdivision regulations, but again, it would have to go through planning and zoning. 

“I would suggest planning and zoning that I don’t know why they would offer those folks on Grace Avenue any special disposition on sidewalks because they didn’t put them in at the time of construction,” said Duncan. “I wouldn’t, no puns intended, grant them grace now. I think if you do grant them grace now, you run into potential of selective enforcement issues and I think that creates problems to you.”

He noted that the city’s only other option is to change the policy of the city in regards to the ordinance by changing the ordinance. 

After more discussion, Duncan said, “I suggest to you that this issue is much more black and white than this group has… it has become shades of many different colors but it is not as black and white as it is in the ordinance. You have come at it from every angle and it is not got resolved.” 

City finance officer Adam Jans explained some of the back history regarding the present issues. He noted the council set the boulevard width at no greater than 7½’. In March, Nelson vetoed the decision, reverting the decision back to the original ordinance of the property line. 

Berens said that the situation with Grace Avenue was that several of the people were second or third homeowners and the council had posed to them that if collectively they could come up with a plan that would put sidewalks all the way around, the council would listen to it. 

Nogelmeier interjected, saying his issue was different but that when it comes time for him to put sidewalks in at his house, he will have to rip out three trees and will not be able to park on the side in front of his driveway. 

“Why can’t I do something different,” he asked. 

“You don’t have to put sidewalks in,” said Berens. 

“I will have to eventually,” said Nogelmeier. “When this happens, what are you going to say to me?”

Upon returning to the meeting, the council asked Peters about the plan on Grace Avenue. He noted that he wasn’t at liberty to speak for everyone and that the plans for sidewalks had been sent to everyone, they were just wanting for a consensus. 

Nogelmeier explained to Peters that he had brought it up and was questioning why, when the group said they would come with a plan, that they didn’t have it ready this month as they want to get it done. 

Peters noted that they have an extension. 

Council member Brian Schulte told Peters that the extension was to put in the sidewalks, not get a plan. 

Berens asked Jorgensen if he could look at the plans to see if they are doable. 

Jorgensen responded, telling her that they are all doable. 

Nelson said that they all want the 3½’ plan because then no one will have to take out any trees and then people will not be walking through the middle of their yards. 

“We can make them all work, but legally he is telling us that our ordinances don’t read that way,” said Jorgensen. 

“Yeah, I get that Mike. I get that,” said Nelson. 

“How do I sell that to Curtis Veil? I said you have to tear that tree down right now,” asked Jorgensen. 

“Curtis Veil took that tree down,” said Nelson. 

“Ok. Pick another one,” said Jorgensen. “Jodi Friman. I just took her tree out yesterday. Mike Melber. He just took two trees out yesterday. How do I tell these people that the people in Grace do not have to go by the same rules that you guys have to?”

“How do I tell them that,” Jorgensen asked again. “Is that far to everybody else in town?” 

Jorgensen continued, telling Nelson that he had been carrying this torch for a year and a half for the council and now they are going to go backwards. 

“You just made a liar out of me,” said Jorgensen. 

“You are going to get the sidewalks. What in the heck do you care where they are,” exclaimed Nelson. 

“Then let everybody put them that way,” said Jorgensen. 

“They already put them in the way they wanted,” said Nelson. 

“No they didn’t,” replied Jorgensen. 

After listening to the council continue to discuss sidewalks, Duncan asked if he could interject one more time. He told the group that they city can change their policy whenever it wants by a majority vote but as the ordinance reads now the council would need to change it to be city wide unless they were going to discuss each sidewalk on a case-by-case basis. 

He noted that his advice would be that residents, whether they knew about the sidewalks or not, is not an excuse for not having them. Duncan said that selective enforcement creates problems for the council and that he believes the best, safest, clearest advice would be one length for sidewalks with everyone being treated the same. 

Duncan noted that the council has danced around this issue for a long time and it isn’t insurmountable because they started a couple years ago and people have been putting their sidewalks in. 

Nelson said they need to let people put their sidewalks where they want to. 

Jorgensen said that it isn’t fair. 

“I just don’t like it,” he said. 

Schulte told the council that they all said they would stand with Jorgensen when they made the sidewalk decision and he isn’t going back on it. 

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