Posted 7/26/16 (Tue)
By Kevin Killough
Someone is putting the brakes on a plan to install a new entrance off Signal Road into the Cash Wise parking lot.
The city began discussion at the last commission meeting of putting in a new entrance at the city’s expense in order to accommodate future construction work to repair Elm Street, which is currently the only access road into the grocery store.
But at the last regular commission meeting, engineer Antonio Conti told the commission Cash Wise denied the city’s request over concerns of semi-trucks coming through the lot.
Becky Estby, senior vice-president of HR for Coborn’s, Inc., which owns the Cash Wise chain, said the company is working with the city and the landlord, but they are not making the final decisions on the second entrance.
The property was previously owned by Oppidan Investment, Co., which sold the property in 2014 to Arcp Co Tioga Nd, LLC, a North Dakota Foreign Limited-Liability Company.
The company is based in Phoenix, Ariz., and no contact information could be located as of press time.
Jay Moore, developer with Oppidan, which still owns the shopping center across the street from Cash Wise, said his company is not too keen on the idea of paying for the repairs with increased taxes.
He said they’ve paid their property taxes, and questioned why the city was asking for even more money from the property owners.
“We expect that a city-owned road will be of a high degree of quality workmanship,” Moore said, and property owners shouldn’t have to pay for the city’s failure to properly bond the contractors who built the roads.
Moore was the lead developer for the shopping center and grocery store, and carried the project through the commission’s permit-approval process in 2012.
Commissioner Tim Sundhagen welcomed the new entrance, saying it would be a lot more conducive to the vehicles people typically drive.
As it is now, the store’s parking lot has very tight turns that are difficult for larger pickups to navigate, and the area can become quite congested, he said.
The current setup is also hard on pedestrians since there are no sidewalks down Elm Street.
“On their part, there’s not really any give and take there,” Sundhagen said at the meeting.
Since the property is privately owned, the city cannot force the owners to allow for the entrance.
Conti said the company told him their landlord would allow a temporary entrance for the construction.
Speaking after the meeting, Sundhagen said there are better ways to prevent semis from coming through the lot, such as a height bar at the entrances, than to create a lot of congestion at the highly trafficked point.
Elm Street has posed a problem for several years, ever since the road was poorly constructed as part of the now-defunct Annabelle Homes project.
Without properly designed drainage, the road has continually been marred with enormous potholes that are particularly hard on smaller vehicles.
There are also repairs going all the way north to the road, curb, gutter, sewer and water infrastructure.
With the possibility of lawsuits against Annabelle under consideration, the city has held off doing more than just filling with gravel the damaged portion of road near the intersection at Signal Road.
“If you fix it yourself, you’ll never get your money back,” Conti warned the commission.
After paying for the labor to gravel and grade the road, the potholes return within a week or after the first rain.
Annabelle Homes built a number of projects in other cities now pursuing legal action against the company, saying it didn’t meet its obligations.
Mayor Drake McClelland raised the option again of going after the company, but the other commissioners and city attorney advised against it.
“You’re trying to get blood from a turnip,” Sundhagen said.
Commissioner Heather Weflen pointed out a lawsuit would take years, during which time the city would have to hold off repairing the road.
“How long are people going to have to wait?” she asked.
City Attorney Ben Johnson said the city would also have a hard time getting compensation even if the suit was successful.
The city gave the company the land for free in order to facilitate the construction of new housing at the onset of the oil boom, but since it was free land, documenting financial losses could be difficult.
The conversation led to the conclusion that a special tax assessment district is the best option to get the work done in a timely manner, but it’s uncertain if the property owners in the district will protest.
The commission voted on a pair of resolutions that took the next step in the lengthy and uncertain process to create the district.
One resolution established a committee for the district, and the other resolution defined the purpose of the district.
The property owners in the district have the option to protest the district, and they are given a vote equal to the amount of land owned within the district.
That means if one or two larger land owners in the area protest the district, it won’t have enough support to pass.
Conti said it’s possible there will be resistance from some property owners, which could kill the district and exhaust the last option the city had to repair the problems.