Friday, June 17, 2016

Neighbors Oppose Extension of Foxboro Road South of N.W. 54th Ave.

More than 70 Green Meadows West residents, board members, and Webster Township neighbors met with Johnston officials and staff at an informal meeting at the city's Crown Point Community Center Tues., June 7, regarding a potential extension of Foxboro Road south from the Green Meadows West neighborhood across N.W. 54th Ave. to the commercial "Birchwood Crossing" development.

Such an extension would cross into property not currently within Johnston city limits, but would connect to a Johnston office complex south of the area.

"The Green Meadows West Homeowners Association remains committed to exploring with other city and county stakeholders alternative development options along the southern boundary of our neighborhood [N.W. 54th Avenue], particularly those that will not unnecessarily increase traffic along, into, and through our neighborhood," association President David Erbes said in a prepared statement after the meeting. "We are strongly opposed to the original proposal to extend Foxboro Road."

The city has made the entire information packet that was presented at the meeting, including contact information for officials and staff, available at a special website: www.cityofjohnston.com/foxboroextension

The June 7 information meeting was the subject of a letter labelled "urgent" to the 500-plus members of Green Meadows West association. Attendance at the meeting was also encouraged by individuals who canvassed their neighbors with information and petitions. Emotions occasionally flared during the event, which lasted longer than 3 hours. Johnston Mayor Paula Dierenfeld facilitated the meeting, often asking for civility and constructive suggestions. Dierenfeld is also a Green Meadows West resident.

While city staff reported there are no current construction proposals for the area, the road extension sparked the interest of Green Meadows West Homeowners board and residents after notice of a May 2016 public hearing by the city council to condemn a portion of property owned by Jo Ann Robbins, 7420 N.W. 54th Ave. Robbins' property is currently part of an unincorporated "island" surrounded by the cities of Johnston and Urbandale. The land is located in Webster Township, Polk County, and is zoned at the county level as a "low density residential" district. The May action was tabled until the city council meets on June 20. City officials said they viewed the start of condemnation process as part of a 16-year effort, and indicated surprise at the recent levels of interest.

According to city staff at the meeting, Hubbell Construction has contacted the city regarding the addition of three new single-level office buildings east of the existing Birchwood Crossing office park development, which is located east of the Carmike Wynnsong 16 movie theater. Birchwood Crossing is located within City of Johnston limits. A representative of Hubbell Construction identified himself as present during the June 7 meeting.

Originally, the question of condemnation was put before the city council in late 2015, but council delayed action when one of the homeowners died. City staff said the condemnation effort was only one way to make the extension possible, and that negotiations with the homeowner for easements would continue. Easements would provide construction and other access to the homeowner's property, without the homeowner surrendering ownership. Condemnation proceedings would take 4 to 6 months after council action, administrator Sanders said.

A homeowner on NW 54th Street said that, had she known about the possibility of increased traffic along the road, shewould likely not have purchased her home in 2015.

City Administrator Jim Sanders presented on the evolution of past development studies and plans for the area, dating back to the early 1990s. Two connections were originally considered for Birchwood Court, Sanders said. One option was to connect to N.W. 54th Avenue. The other, to the north-south road of 72nd Street. The latter option was subsequently complicated by the 1996 construction of the Metro Ice Sports Facility, a private business located at 5100 NW 72nd St. The business is located on land owned by the City of Urbandale.

Engineer Molly Long of Foth Engineering, Johnston, presented data from a 2015 traffic analysis of a potential north-south connection between Birchwood Court and N.W. 54th Avenue. Based upon models and incorporated data from a 2015 traffic study conducted during school year, Long estimated that the total traffic in/out of the southern extension of Foxboro Road would be 1,200 trips daily. That number roughly matches daily traffic in/out of the Green Meadows West neighborhood, she said. The net change of northbound traffic into the Green Meadows West neighborhood after the extension would be only 6 trips per hour, she estimated. Homeowners have questioned that data.

Municipal Community Development Director David Wilwerding presented historical maps of the area, along with information regarding the city's current comprehensive plan—a 2010 document that governs zoning classifications of property within Johnston city limits. Extending Foxboro Road would allow two property owners other than Hubbell Construction to more readily subdivide and develop adjacent property as low-density, single-family housing. Wilwerding also said that further extension of city services along and into the area might further bolster city attempts toward partial annexation. Annexation is the process of taking land into municipal boundaries.

Webster Township residents at the meeting noted that, since 1965, they had successfully fought up to seven attempts toward annexation of the "Bur Oak Island"—apparently the informal name of the area, after one of the county streets in the neighborhood.

Wilwerding's slide presentation included a 2007 Hubbell Construction proposal for a 16-unit single-family development along an extended Foxboro Road. His slides also included an undated 10-lot cul-de-sac subdivision located west of Timber Ridge Elementary, with street access from the extended Foxboro Road.

Finally, outgoing Timber Ridge elementary principal Cheryl Henkenius briefly commented on pedestrian and vehicular traffic to her facility. During morning and afternoon hours, school staff wearing bright safety vests act as crossing guards on N.W. 54th Avenue. Once or twice a month, Henkenius said, those guards report incidents in which a driver ignores either them, or the temporary stop signs also daily erected at the school crossings.

Crossing guards would remain a necessity, Henkenius said, regardless of whether a lighted intersection was created along N.W. 54th Avenue. "No matter what, we'll still have a crossing guard there," she said.

City council member Tom Cope, who is also a Green Meadows West resident, later suggested that a lighted intersection would improve safety for students walking across the street. "The No. 1 reason that I'm willing to consider the extension of this road is safety," he said.  Some Green Meadows West homeowners disagreed that a traffic-light is the only option by which students could be made safe. One audience member even suggested that traffic controlled intersections actually increase the likelihood of accidents.

Some Green Meadows West residents asked questions regarding "traffic calming" techniques that could slow traffic along Foxboro Road and NW 54th Avenue. Many expressed concerns regarding existing traffic speed and quantity, particularly that which would pass Timber Ridge Elementary, which is located at a bend of N.W. 4th Avenue and 72nd Street.

The agenda for the June 20 city council meeting will be available to the public on Fri., June 17. (Click here for the city's on-line meeting postings.) Interested residents should review the agenda to determine whether they should attend the council meeting.

Update posted June 20: Based on posted reports and agenda for the June 20 city council meeting, staff was expected to recommend that the council take no further action for now regarding the condemnation of the Robbins property. In a separate June 20 item, staff recommended that the council create a working group of community stakeholders, which would have design input into any road extension in the area. Representatives from Green Meadows West would be included in such a group.

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