Why I Voted For The North Douglas Avenue Improvement Project

The Yankton City Commission voted to commence with an improvement project on the north end of Douglas Avenue this week.

It’s a decision that has been five or more years in the making.

Here is what the project entails (and more details can be found in this Press & Dakotan article):

Yankton City Manager Amy Nelson said the project is $1.6 million, with $100,800 to be assessed. The project will include rebuilding Douglas Ave. between Anna St. and 31st St. and adding curb, gutter and sidewalks along the stretch of roadway. Currently, the road beyond Anna St. has no sidewalk or shoulder.

Commissioner Charlie Gross opposed the resolution because he believes it sets a bad precedence. I respect his decision, as it is an element of the debate that I struggled with, too.

Ultimately, I came to support the project for the following reasons.

I’m the first to admit that this is not an ideal solution.

It does not adhere to our subdivision ordinance, and some will question the fairness of making an exception.

Instead of a clear black or white — or good or bad — decision, the commission is left with a deafening gray of competing considerations, values and goals. It is in this gray area that I have struggled to find clarity for the last several months, knowing that the time for a decision would arrive.

Questions that come to mind are:

1) Should an exception to our subdivision ordinance be made for these property owners? Are we creating a precedence that we may regret in the long term?

2) If the matter went to court, does the city have the weight of the law on its side?

3) With the development already in place along North Douglas, can we wait — possibly decades — for current or new property owners to change their minds on the matter and put off the installation of curb and gutter, storm sewer and sidewalk improvements?

4) As more development happens to the north, and pedestrian traffic increases, are we putting people at serious risk of injury or death by not having a sidewalk in place along that stretch?

5) Currently, a developer has indicated that it will not build homes on property it owns along North Douglas unless the city carries most of the financial burden of this infrastructure project. With the need for housing in the community now and in the future, is it worth more to Yankton to make this sacrifice in order to gain more homes? Thus, we create new opportunities for those wishing to live in our community while increasing our property tax revenues and, potentially, sales taxes revenues.

These questions and more have swirled around my head and led to many conversations with those who are for moving ahead with this proposal and those who are against it.

But now, as the question is asked, I must come to a decision.

And my decision is yes.

Yes, we need to set aside history and our normal requirements to address this specific circumstance.

Yes, we need to think about the long-term future of our city. Douglas Avenue has been, and will continue to be, a major north-south thoroughfare for our residents. We need the proper infrastructure in place — especially sidewalks — in order to ensure orderly development and improve safety.

Yes, we need to encourage the development of more housing that will contribute to the growth and prosperity of our community.

So while this resolution is not ideal, it is at the very least a compromise by which both the city and the property owners along North Douglas can live.

In the short term, the City Commission and our staff will, perhaps rightly, be questioned about the fairness of this agreement in comparison to what we ask of others in regards to our subdivision ordinance.

But I’m confident that, in the long term, history will judge the agreement favorably as one that made the best of a frustrating situation and did the greatest good for the community.