Detroit Lakes residents voice concerns to city staff over proposed utilities expansion, want minimal changes

Members of the Willow Springs and Deerwood Park neighborhoods in Detroit Lakes, north of Oak Grove Cemetery, expressed their concerns over the cost of proposed city assessments that would improve roads and connect the neighborhoods to the city's public utilities.

Residents of the Willow Springs and Deerwood Park neighborhoods in Detroit Lakes vote by hand on an option for proposed street, and public utility, improvements during an informational meeting at the Historic Holmes Theatre on May 25, 2021. (Michael Achterling / Tribune)

Two recently annexed neighborhoods in Detroit Lakes on Tuesday told city staff and council members they favored minimalist street improvements and didn't want the large costs associated with sewer and water hookups.

More than 40 residents of the Willow Springs and Deerwood Park neighborhoods met at the Historic Holmes Theatre on May 25 to hear from Jon Pratt, city engineer for Detroit Lakes, who presented options to the residents concerning potential infrastructure improvements. The different preliminary options ranged in estimated total cost from $2.9 million to $3.7 million depending on the amenities.

"We've had some previous meetings, certainly not to this detail, or this level, talking about it over the course of probably the last four or five years," said Pratt, during the meeting. "But, in fairness, the details have been pretty limited until now and we're finally getting to a point where we can, maybe, start zeroing in on this a bit."

He also said, based on the preliminary plans, residents could expect to be assessed between $32,000 to $49,000 for the street and utility improvements. The assessment would be spread over a 20-year period on the homeowner's property taxes with an interest rate between 4% to 6%.

The two neighborhoods, north of Oak Grove Cemetery, were annexed into the city of Detroit Lakes in December 2019 and are still independent of the city's public utilities with many residents operating their own water wells and septic systems. Many residents expressed concern over the high cost of the proposed sewer and water assessments.


Jon Pratt, left, city engineer for Detroit Lakes, and Kelcey Klemm, right, city administrator for Detroit Lakes, listen to concerns about proposed street, and public utility, improvements from residents of the Willow Springs and Deerwood Park neighborhoods during an informational meeting at the Historic Holmes Theatre on May 25, 2021. (Michael Achterling / Tribune)

"You heard words like, 'they're investing,' well, they are investing our money," said Chuck Fritz, a Willow Springs resident. "The city is going to spend our money to do something that we don't want to do, at least that's the road we're starting down and we're saying, 'no, it's not right.'"

Residents seemed more receptive to minimal street improvements through the neighborhood, which would replace their majority gravel road off Highway 59 with a paved, 28-foot wide rural street with no curb, or gutter installed. With no utility upgrades, only street improvements, the assessments would drop in estimated cost to between $7,200 to $12,300.

"We do need road maintenance, there is no question about it," said Fritz. "The road needs work … but if you have someone who knows how to run a grader, you don't have that problem, right? It goes away."

Fritz also said City Council members should listen to their constituency during this process.

Steve Schumacher, a Willow Springs resident, said he is hoping for street improvements in the neighborhood to replace the gravel road with pavement.

"Those of us who live on the unpaved part of the street are tired of the dust," he said.

Another concerned resident, LuAnn Porter, said she worried about losing the rural feeling of the neighborhood.


"I have lived in my house for 38 years … but there's a reason we went out there in the first place," said Porter. "I love where I live. I love the rural feeling. I love sitting in my backyard and hearing the frogs, hearing the ducks, and I don't want to lose that and nobody else does either."

The purpose of the meeting was for city staff, and council members, to get feedback from the residents as to which improvement plans seemed palatable to the neighborhoods.

"In some ways, I think it's consistent to what we've heard before, which is, I think there was a lot of opposition to water and sewer utilities," said Kelcey Klemm, city administrator for Detroit Lakes. "Maybe there is some interest in doing road improvements, but they also understand that once you put the road improvements in, that ship kind of sails on doing water and sewer, so I think it's kind of what we expected and now we've got to go back and talk about what our next step is."

Much of the future of the proposed improvement plans now rests in the hands of the City Council, many of whom were on hand to hear from the residents directly.

"We really got a road map to move forward with what the people of Willow Springs want," said Natalie Bly, alderman-at-large for Detroit Lakes. "We don't want to take away their enjoyment of their rural life, but yes, they are part of the city so it's just working through that compromise."

With the feedback given from the neighborhood's residents, the next step for the improvement project will be the City Council's committee process, which will solidify the plans enough to hold a tentatively scheduled public hearing in September 2021. If the measure passes the public hearing without changes, bidding for the multi-million dollar project could begin in February 2022 with a final public hearing and construction to begin in summer 2022.

Or, council members could decide on none-of-the-above and delay the potential improvements until the measures are more agreeable to the residents, said Klemm.

"Before you go and make an improvement, put a road in, why don't we just defer this for a few years and think about it a little bit more," said Klemm. "So that's where my gut is sitting, as to where this goes."


Lead Multimedia Reporter for the Detroit Lakes Tribune and the Perham Focus.
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