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Council says no to private park

Prairie Acres mailboxes, basketball hoop waiting on sidewalks

SOLON– For the last year, residents of Prairie Acres Part 6 and 7 have been driving to the post office for their mail, developer Matt Lepic reported.
The pad for their mailboxes and the sidewalk along a dedicated park space in the development haven’t been poured, he told Solon City Council members during a May 6 meeting.
Lepic, who is finishing the final phases of Prairie Acres, proposed taking ownership of the outlot, which will serve as park space for the neighborhood, but council members weren’t in favor.
The issue arose as part of the park requirement for new subdivisions, City Administrator Cami Rasmussen explained.
Dedicated park space for Prairie Acres was originally planned for Part 6, but the identified outlot was converted to use for storm water management, and space from Part 7 was promised.
In June 2018, council members approved a preliminary plat for Prairie Acres Part 7 including a lot, at the intersection of Marie Court and David Drive, identified as park.
The original developers proposed a basketball court, presented a plan showing a sidewalk, and the council accepted it, Rasmussen said.
She said the original developers apparently assumed the sidewalk would be the responsibility of the city. Typically, when a lot is sold to a new buyer, they are responsible for the sidewalk, she noted.
“I believe they made that same assumption, that when this became a city lot, that the city would put in the sidewalk, however that was an assumption made in error,” Rasmussen stated.
With the development well underway and the court poured, Lepic approached the city with the proposal to assume ownership of the lot so the sidewalks could be completed, she said.
City staff reviewed the option of putting the park in Lepic’s name as a private individual and identified pros and cons, she noted.
The proposal would address the sidewalk and seeding issues, as well as remove the burden of snow removal, mowing and landscaping from the city, Rasmussen observed.
But the owner’s potential influence on the park and its usage, liability issues with public use of private property, the willingness of future owners to continue the agreement and ensuring improvements are made in a timely manner were problematic, she said.
“The other concern, the primary concern that I think we as staff had is what kind of precedent this would set for other developments,” she concluded.
Lepic said the mailboxes are a big concern for the development.
“It hasn’t been in for the last year, year and a half now,” he said. “Everybody in Prairie Acres Part 6 and 7 have been having to go to the post office to get their mail.”
The post office has the mailbox cluster, but it can’t go in until the sidewalks are poured, he said.
Council member Dan O’Neil felt the concerns of Lepic’s proposal outweighed the benefits.
If another development comes up, he said, the city expects parks and green space to be completed before being turned over to the city. The city has not purchased the outlot, he added, it’s been deeded over to fulfill a requirement of development.
The city’s comprehensive plan seeks to have developers provide park space within residential subdivisions, but the guidelines are general to allow for flexibility.
The city made a concession already by accepting a basketball hoop and single lot instead of a traditional park space, suggested council member Steve Duncan.
He sided with O’Neil in opposing private ownership
Council member Lynn Morris noted the city should stick with the original agreement, keeping the area under the city and requiring the developer to put in the sidewalks.
Lepic understood the position and indicated he was just trying to get the issue resolved.
“I just want people to be happy and everybody to be satisfied with what’s going on in here,” he said.
The lot has been ready, the hoop is ready to go up, but the bigger problem is the mailbox, he added.
If the city is going to seek the sidewalks from the original developer, he asked for a timeline to provide the neighborhood.
Public Works Director Scott Kleppe confirmed city parks were currently closed due to the COVID-19 outbreak and pointed out the hoop can’t go up until the sidewalks are in due to an accessibility issue.
Mayor Steve Stange said it was clear council members wanted the original developer to assume the responsibility.
“I’m hearing a pretty strong message that the council’s not interested in anything other than what the expectation was at the beginning of this endeavor with this development,” he said.
Council members took no action on Lepic’s proposal, but City Attorney Kevin Olson indicated a letter should be sent to the original developer outlining a timeframe to complete the project.