Willow Springs and Deerwood Park neighborhood residents cheered members of the Detroit Lakes City Council on Tuesday after a vote that limited the scope of the proposed utilities expansion to only street improvements was adopted into the city's five-year capital improvement plan.

With only two dissenting votes, Detroit Lakes City Council members on June 8 approved an amended five-year capital improvement plan that will lessen the special assessment burden for the proposed street improvements for those neighborhood residents.

"We keep hearing the same thing over, and over, again from the residents, they want roads and they do not want the water and the sewer," said Ron Zeman, alderman for the city's first ward. "These people are happy with their septic systems and drilling wells … and they keep telling us, and telling us, and telling us, and we have to listen. I think it's time that we take this off, and put it in for the capital improvement plan that it's going to be a road project only."

Multiple residents of the recently annexed neighborhoods spoke during the meeting about the high special assessment costs and how it may force them out of their neighborhoods that they've lived in for decades in some cases.

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"The majority of the residents in Willow Springs have stated very clearly, on a number of occasions, that we don't want this," said Chuck Fritz, a Willow Springs resident. "And it's difficult for us to try to have any dialog when we keep on seeing this push by somebody to get this capital improvement in Willow Springs, I don't understand it."

Chuck Fritz, a Willow Springs resident, voices concerns to members of the city council over proposed street and utility improvements to the Willow Springs neighborhood as part of the public hearing for the Detroit Lakes 5-year capital improvement plan during a regular meeting of the council at The Pavilion on June 8, 2021. (Michael Achterling / Tribune)
Chuck Fritz, a Willow Springs resident, voices concerns to members of the city council over proposed street and utility improvements to the Willow Springs neighborhood as part of the public hearing for the Detroit Lakes 5-year capital improvement plan during a regular meeting of the council at The Pavilion on June 8, 2021. (Michael Achterling / Tribune)

Fritz said he would welcome the elimination of the proposed utilities upgrades because that would lower the special assessment to a more manageable cost with only the street improvements included.

Special assessments had been projected between $32,000 to $49,000 when including the originally proposed utilities hookups due to the large lot sizes in the neighborhoods. With the amended changes, the special assessments now are projected to be between $7,200 to $12,300 for the road improvements.

Not all the council members shared the resident's concerns. Matt Boeke, alderman for the city's third ward, said this will lock those residents into their wells, and septic systems, for the next 20 years, if they move forward with the street improvements.

"To set asphalt down, and set sail to this for 20 years, a lot can change in 20 years," said Boeke. "I think they left happy and so did the council.

Jon Pratt, city engineer for Detroit Lakes, laid out the future improvement projects for the city, some of which extended out to 2027. He emphasized that the five-year plan is just a roadmap for the city's future and the costs, or priorities, may change in the coming years.

Other highlights from the Detroit Lakes five-year capital improvement plan include:

  • $1.5 million street improvement for Highland Drive beginning in 2022.
  • $7.4 million street and utility improvement for Holmes Street, Willow Street and Frazee Street, including the alleyway between Holmes Street and Frazee Street, near Bremer Bank, in spring 2022.
  • $4.3 million city water tower replacement in 2022.
  • $2.7 million street improvement project for Campbell Avenue and Linden Avenue in 2023.

  • $1.1 million utility improvements for Richwood Road during the Becker County's street improvement project in 2023.

  • $1.4 million street and utility improvements for Summit Avenue between Highway 10 and Holmes Street in 2023.
  • $6.3 million street and cityscape improvements for West Lake Drive between Legion Road and Washington Avenue in 2024.
  • $2.4 million water and sewer extensions for the northwest side of Long Lake in 2025.
  • $1.2 million parking lot refurbishment for the Washington Avenue Mall in 2025.
  • $3.1 million water and sewer extension for the westside of Long Lake in 2027.

Council members also approved an emergency purchase of $550,000 for a used ladder truck for the Detroit Lakes Fire Department. Recently, the department's ladder truck has become unreliable do to mechanical failures and the 1987 truck was difficult to find replacement parts for, which led to the City Council approving the funds.

"The extension goes up, down, sideways, when you don't want it to, and when you want it to, it doesn't move," said Dan Wenner, alderman for the city's first ward. "This is not a situation that we can tolerate. It puts our firefighters in danger and assigns huge liability to the city."

City staff also received approval to submit a bonding request for $1 million to the Minnesota Legislature for next year's bonding session for the Washington Avenue Ballpark. Kelcey Klemm, city administrator for Detroit Lakes, said, if the bond was approved by the state, it would cover about half of the cost for the ballpark's renovations.

Lastly, Mayor Matt Brenk did not renew the city's COVID-19 emergency declaration and the next City Council meeting will be held at the city administration building on July 13.