Committee of the Whole focuses on impact of upcoming highway project

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To tree or not to tree…that was the question during the Monday, June 11, Chatfield City Council’s committee of the whole (COW) meeting. Councilors and city administration discussed the options for the upcoming 2019 Highway 52 improvement project set forth by the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT).

“The downtown blocks…do we want to try to save and reuse the tree grates — do we want to put them back in, or if not, do we go with planters that we can move out in the winter and put back in the spring?” asked Chatfield’s mayor, Russ Smith.

He posed the question to city councilors and administration during the COW meeting, noting the council has, at some point in the recent past, determined that the trees should not be replaced once MnDOT designs and completes the highway that doubles as Chatfield’s Main Street. This is a project that’s slated to be bid out on March 19 and finished by Western Days next August.

Councilor Paul Novotny stated, “I think we need to be done with those.”

MnDOT had various questions for Chatfield’s council, such as what kind of sidewalk, what kind of lighting and what kind of boulevard to incorporate into the project as the design phase is carried out.

Smith said of the 18 standards, or lampposts, that line the street two blocks north of the stoplight, only six of those have been deemed reusable by MnDOT.

“The one by the bowling alley…they said that that one should come down right away because it’s in such bad shape. MnDOT doesn’t want to pay for lighting in the downtown area unless it’s for ‘dark sky’ lights, or lights that point down,” Smith explained. “If we want MnDOT to pay for anything, it has to be for dark sky lights, not like the 360-degree globes we have right now. If we do find a dark sky standard that we like, they’ll pay up to $38,000. I think we all think it’s important to have lighting downtown.”

Councilor Mike Urban interjected, “Keep in mind we got all these new Christmas decorations that we paid for that we’re not going to have anything to hang them on if we don’t have lights downtown.”

Library Director Monica Erickson registered that she felt the lighting itself can be new, but that it should have a vintage appearance to offer continuity with the town’s nineteenth-century buildings. “It can be new but look old…if not, if we don’t have anything like that or stamped sidewalks, it might start to look cold,” she said.

The stamped concrete boulevard to which Erickson referred took some debate among the councilors and city crew. Urban, who gets around on wheels, objected somewhat to the proposal to have the sidewalks stamped based on his personal experience of not finding good traction.

Councilor Pam Bluhm said she didn’t mind the city’s investment in the beautification as long as the sidewalks are easy to shovel, and Novotny and Smith expressed that they felt the inclusion of a different pattern or color — or both — could spiff up the city for residents and visitors.

Parking and turning lanes were the last items the committee addressed because the library currently has parking stalls in front, just off the highway. When the resurfacing project is done, those stalls will be replaced by space taken out of the middle of the highway for a left turning lane. Smith asked Erickson if she thought a drop-off lane at the library might prove useful, especially because MnDOT plans to close the Highway 52 access to the library’s parking lot to the north, forcing motorists to enter from Highways 30 and 74 on the north.

Erickson remarked that it would be an option she’d like the city to explore, though Smith pointed out the expense would be the city’s.

Lastly, Smith concluded by telling the committee members that MnDOT has planned a July open house meeting for business owners to learn more about the project and the transportation authority will convey what kind of access will be maintained during the reconstruction of the highway so customers will continue patronizing Chatfield’s businesses.