City Council decided Tuesday to put off making any decisions concerning the Woodmen and Academy fee ordinance until March 13.
That ordinance was to reflect an agreement between the city and Rosenbaum-Dean, the developer of Woodmen Commons, a commercial development at the corner of Woodmen Road and Academy Boulevard that contains several retail stores. Rosenbaum-Dean agreed in February 1998 to pay a “fair and equitable” portion of the costs of upgrading the intersection to accommodate the increase in traffic the development would generate, in exchange for approval of their plans.
Duncan Associates, an Austin, Texas consulting group, conducted a series of studies at the city’s behest to assess payment methods and structures for building a grade-separated interchange. Ultimately, most of the financial burden was placed on developers and not on the city. The ensuing controversy led to the cessation of the studies and questions regarding the fairness and accuracy of the proposed impact fees, the primary funding mechanism that the Duncan studies looked at.
Linda Barley, councilwoman for District 2, said after council approves the city’s comprehensive plan, it would then look at impact fees for businesses where there is no major development already occurring. That way, “any fees could be shared fairly by all the property owners and all the developers who would benefit from whatever infrastructure would be built in the area,” she said.
“The problem with the Woodmen and Academy area is that there were already major pieces of property that were developed and in use and we couldn’t go back and retroactively impose an impact fee on a development that was already there.”
Impact fees, need for studies questioned
However, some City Council candidates and businesses owners do not see the logic in imposing impact fees.
“I have a degree in economics and if someone can figure out (the monetary impact a building has on an area) I’ll be the first one to congratulate them,” said Charles Wingate, candidate for District 2. “You cannot place monetary value on the impact of a new development, especially if you don’t know for how long it’s going to be there. Impact fees are a tool that would be misused and would slow down progress to the point it would ruin our economy.”
Linda Doole, owner of Sign of the Rose, 6904 N. Academy Blvd., thinks impact fees stunt growth, and is concerned about what the outcome of the debates may be.
“If they charge my landlord (impact fees), it will be passed on to us tenants in rent increases,” she said. “So it’s going to affect everyone because then we have to pass higher prices onto our customers.”
“I think City Council has wasted a lot of money on impact studies; a study here, a study there,” Doole said. “They should stop studying it and do something.”
The city is looking to citizens for improving travel in the area, said Craig Blewitt, city transportation planning manager. The East-West Mobility Study, which seeks citizen input, is the base upon which the future of the Woodmen project will be built. Council is awaiting the results of the study, which includes looking at the Woodmen corridor, before taking any action. Although originally scheduled for completion last December, the study is now expected to be wrapped up this October.
“We will integrate the study into how to handle the reality of transportation,” Barley said. “Until we get that sophisticated program, traffic will be how it is now.”
So far only two options have come out of the study: the beltway concept, which would link Highway 24 on the south and Woodmen on the north via Powers Boulevard on the east and Interstate 25 on the west; the other option is to expand Woodmen to six lanes.
Bill Guman, the councilman for District 2 who represents the Woodmen and Academy area, said “inherent flaws in the methodology brought before us … (and) we’ve learned a lot of valuable lessons.”
For some citizens, those lessons came with a costly price tag attached.
“No one wants to commit. They are going to wait ‘til after the election to do something,” said Doole. “They’re basically going to pass the buck onto the new people and to those who are left.”
Rock the vote
With the City Council election around the corner, business owners and area residents are curious about candidates’ opinions concerning the Woodmen scheme.
“People that I know who represent neighborhood organizations are looking for new ideas from council people,” said Jan Doran, president of Council of Neighbors and Organizations. She said people in the northwest part of town aren’t in favor of the beltway.
Doran said many people favor widening Woodmen Road to six lanes, but anything more would have a negative impact on homes and businesses.
Wingate couldn’t agree more.
“There is a worry that Woodmen will become an eight-lane expressway,” he said. “My stand on it is simple: We have a master plan that was developed in 1992 that said it shouldn’t be widened more than six lanes. I support that master plan and I don’t support anything that goes beyond that master plan.”
Leon Kirk, District 2 candidate, was part of the Woodmen Enhancement Committee — a group composed of residents and business owners in the affected area — before he started his campaign. He said he is opposed to any part of an expressway being built there. Instead, he said, adding one lane in the existing bed on Woodmen and putting a median down part of it, as well as improving traffic-signal timing would be a better solution.
Keith Monschke, also running for District 2, believes further studies will help council make its decision.
“I am concerned for the businesses that are on and around Woodmen,” said Monschke. “(I) want to see (the) impact (from the assessment studies) before we say Woodmen is the right road to expand.”
Whether the current City Council creates a solution or leaves it to the next group, any plan is likely to alienate some people. “I know there’s a problem and I know someone will be mad at them no matter what they do,” said Margaret Martin, owner of Bentley’s Coffee & Pastries, 6840 N. Academy Blvd. “But I’d like to look back in 10 to 15 years and say … ‘remember when Woodmen was so crowded?’ I would just like to know that the solution is really going to solve the problem.”