Many city council meetings are frankly rather sleepy affairs. Often times, they are meetings filled with bureaucratic details and mundane policy decisions. But the Richfield City Council meeting on Tuesday, December 9 was very much the opposite. On this night, the Richfield Council had a very significant issue to decide, one that would impact the community for decades to come.
At hand was the decision to adopt a 66th Street reconstruction plan that would expand the street to include better sidewalks, cycle tracks, boulevards, and improved lanes for motorized vehicles; or limit the reconstruction to a smaller footprint that would restrict many of those enhancements. What made the vote tough is that 18 homes on the south side of the street would have to be taken to proceed with the more elaborate plan, often referred to as Plan 4B. The Council voted 3 to 2 to adopt Plan 4B, with Council Members Sandahl, Garcia and Fitzhenry voting yes, and Council Member Elliott and Mayor Goettel voting no.
Richfield Transportation Engineer Jeff Pearson opened the discussion with a review of the process that had transpired. Pearson mentioned that the options of a three lane roadway and a low impact design were seriously considered, but ultimately abandoned in favor of Plan 4B, which most recently had earned the unanimous support of the Richfield Transportation Commission.
Thirteen residents addressed the City Council in an open comments session, almost evenly divided between favoring and opposing Plan 4B. Sean O'Leary, chair of the Richfield Bike Advocates, spoke first, strongly urging approval of Plan 4B. Ted Weidenbach, a member of the Transportation Commission, said the Council was making a "75 year decision" with a long term impact on the community. He characterized the stretch of 66th Street from 35W to Penn as "not safe for anyone." Jerri Haaven was the first speaker who opposed Plan 4B and the taking of homes for 66th Street reconstruction. She worried about "those who are left behind after the dust settles" from this project. Hayden Brockman spoke for a neighbor whose home will be acquired. Brockman, whose home won't be acquired, currently lives in a house that's the second one away from the street, but she worries how being the first house will affect her future equity. The open session seesawed back and forth between pro and con speakers with regard to plan 4B.
Then it was the City Council's turn to speak. Here is a summary of their comments in the order they spoke:
Mayor Debbie Goettel expressed a wish for revisiting the 3 lane option. She said we should proceed with painting the street in a three-lane fashion and see what happens. According to the Mayor: "We need a road diet." She also voiced concern about losing 18 homes.
Council Member Pat Elliott, whose ward includes the homes in question, believes Plan 4B is not going to decrease traffic, but rather increase it. He was also concerned about what he described as the sudden notion to take the homes, saying the idea only became apparent about 6 months ago. Elliott feels Richfield is paying a price for incompetent decisions by MN DOT regarding Crosstown reconstruction. He firmly says Plan 4B is not going to work and he has no belief that it is going to increase safety.
Council Member Sue Sandahl said we are making a 50 to 75 year decision. With only two routes spanning Richfield from east to west, she believes Plan 4B is necessary. She cited how staff had said the three lane option won't work. She also believes the medians, boulevards and trees planned for the new roadway will have a traffic calming effect.
Council Member Edwina Garcia described how Richfield has changed over the years, going from a farming community to a bedroom community to what it is today. She suggested this decision is just one more change as the City moves into the future. She described the acquisitiion process that homeowners will experience, believing it is a very fair process. She said: "I don't want to make a short decision for only 25 years. We have to make tough decisions if we're going to sit up here."
After the first four members spoke, it was apparent that they split two to two in their opinions. It all hung in the balance with Council Member Tom Fitzhenry.
Council Member Tom Fitzhenry said: "If we don't take the 18 homes, we impact a lot more homes." He expressed concern about the prospect of taking twelve feet of the front lawn of the homes on the north side of the street, which would happen with the low impact plan. He mentioned his days as a police officer in Richfield, saying he recalled many accidents on what is a dangerous road. He said: "I can find no other way than to agree with 4B."
Once Fitzhenry spoke, it was apparent that Plan 4B would pass. The vote was merely a formality of what was to come.
After the vote, the crowd that had gathered filed out quietly.
Banners marking the identity of the Penn Central neighborhood were installed in September.
Penn Central of Richfield - Your Neighborhood Mainstreet
Building Community in Richfield, Minnesota