Oronoco residents voice frustration over road
ORONOCO — "The people of Oronoco are being pushed around by a man who doesn't want to do what he promised to do," Charle Blum said during a special public hearing Tuesday night at Oronoco City Hall.
Blum, a resident of the River Park subdivision in Oronoco, was talking to and about Steve Jech, the developer of the subdivision where the roads have not been completed, leaving manholes sticking up, causing problems for snowplows, and leaving the base road ripe for deterioration.
Jech began developing the subdivision more than 10 years ago but has not paved the "wearing coat" on the roads, the top layer that covers the base bituminous layer, protecting the road base. The developer has said he will pave the road once the city pays him for a well they asked him to dig as part of the development agreement. But the city has, thus far, declined to buy the well and insists Jech's responsibility to pave the road is an independent issue.
Blum, the first of 16 people — most River Park residents — including Jech to take the microphone during the meeting, summed up many of the frustrations of the neighborhood residents. The development agreement executed between the city and Jech's Journey Developing in 2005 was flawed, he said.
The residents do not want to be assessed for the completion of a paving job they feel they've already paid for, Blum said. City attorney Fred Suhler would rather force the residents to pay than take Jech to court and force the issue, he said.
"How is it the city enters into a vaguely, poorly written contract and does not take responsibility for that contract?" Nate Guyse asked the mayor and city council. "How is it you're going to stick our neighborhood with 100 percent of this bill?"
Oronoco Mayor Kevin McDermott said he was against an assessment for the paving. At the end of the public hearing, he asked the council to table the motion to make a decision on the assessment until some of the questions and concerns asked by residents could be answered. Councilman Ryland Eichhorst was the lone member of the council who did not approve the motion, again claiming open meetings laws required him to abstain from voting when he stands to benefit financially. Eichhorst is a River Park resident.
Jay Bergner asked the council what the $18,000 he's paid in city taxes have gone for through the years. His road is not paved and is poorly plowed in the winter. He contended the Cedar Woodlands development, where Oronoco residents were assessed at 100 percent for a similar paving project, is different because that developer went bankrupt. "Is Mr. Jech bankrupt?" he asked, directing his question to Suhler.
"In 2009, the city council should have told Mr. Jech to finish it," Suhler said. "The reality is, if you don't do anything, you're going to be driving on gravel streets in a couple of years. The issue today is what do we do with this process."
City engineer Joe Palen opened the discussion with an outline of what options lay before the city. Do nothing, he said, and the base layer of the roads will continue to oxidize and deteriorate. If the city waits until that happens, reclaiming and repaving will cost twice what the current estimate is for a mill and overlay to finish the road.
Palen said the estimated cost of the project was about $233,000. dividing that between corner lots and linear lots would amount to about $2,400 and $1,200 respectively per property owner paid out over 10 years through a property tax assessment.
Jech addressed those in attendance and the city council, pushing his point that if the city would honor its agreement to pay for the well, he would finish the paving. "I said I will meet my obligation as long as they meet theirs," he said.
McDermott, who said the city has not declined to purchase the well, but it simply cannot afford it right now, insisted Jech stick to the issue of the roads. "The roads and the well are two separate issues," the mayor said, heatedly.
"They aren't in mine," Jech retorted.
"They are in ours," McDermott said. "When we can afford the well, we'll buy the well."
Council member Trish Shields added, "I'm not interested in hearing about the well tonight. The citizens are right. You are obligated to finish the road."
Several residents who spoke said no matter the outcome, the disagreement between Jech and the city will hurt Oronoco in the long run.
"What precedent are you willing to set?" Ashley Bocchi asked the council. "You're telling any developer who comes in that they will not need to uphold their legal agreement. Who is going to move out here if they know they're going to get screwed?"