The Wellington Village Council approved assessments and a bond issue for the planned southern Saddle Trail Park paving project Tuesday over objections from residents who don’t live in the neighborhood but said that the paving would seriously damage Wellington’s Equestrian Preserve Area.
Village Engineer Bill Riebe said planning for the project has been going on for more than a year and remains on its set schedule.
“You will see it several more times,” Riebe said. “The purpose of this resolution is to approve the assessment plan.”
He said the assessment area and plans have not changed since they were presented in April 2014. It proposes a 15-foot swale with potable water mains underneath, a 25-foot right of way and a 14-foot shellrock bridle trail separated from the road by a three-rail fence.
Riebe added that village staff had met in several workshops with Saddle Trail residents, as well as the Equestrian Preserve Committee, on the design.
He said the benefits of the $7.3 million project total $16.3 million, including $4.4 million in reduced insurance, $5.2 million in reduced maintenance and $6.7 million in increased land values, which he said is a conservative estimate.
He added that Wellington doesn’t really have any risk because it is a resident-initiated project.
“What we’re proposing is that Wellington share in the financing,” Riebe said. “This is not out of line, and it creates a partnership. Typically, governments at least provide a backstop for the financing.”
He said the cost of construction is estimated at $5.4 million. “We think it will come in less,” he said.
The assessment will be about $31,000 per acre.
For approval, Riebe said ballots were sent to all owners in a notarized survey and that the project received 75.7 percent approval, easily passing the two-thirds approval requirement by the village, although subsequent unofficial surveys showed lower support, including one last month that showed only 63.1 percent support.
Councilwoman Anne Gerwig noted that no response, which was about 15 percent and 10 percent, respectively, counted as a “no” vote, rather than being disregarded.
As of now, the village has spent about $335,000 on the project, not including staff time.
Mayor Bob Margolis pointed out that letters have been circulated to residents that contained misinformation, and special counsel Kenneth Edwards affirmed that there were a number of misunderstandings and incorrect statements, including the cost of the project, the cost of water hookups, and also that a contractor had already been hired for the project.
“This is basically scaremongering, ‘How many companies were allowed to submit a bid for this job?’” Edwards said, quoting the letter. “Assuming that means construction, you have not put anything out for bid at this time at all. You’re going to have to put this out to bid for it to go forward.”
The letter also asks why residents have to pay for the project, but Edwards pointed out that the residents requested it.
“People came to you and asked for this. It’s not a project you are forcing upon them,” Edwards said.
He added that the assessments would be added into the value of the lots. “This is basically a flier that was sent out to stir them up,” Edwards said. “Most of this is not correct.”
During public comment, attorney Dan Rosenbaum, speaking on behalf of some Equestrian Preserve Area residents, said that several Saddle Trail residents had withdrawn their support since the original survey after they learned that the total assessment would be over $100,000 per lot, and added that the project would reduce, rather than improve, equestrian safety.
Vice Mayor John Greene said the number of changes in support by residents had been misrepresented.
“I have no support for the comments of Mr. Rosenbaum,” Greene said. “The most important thing we can do is see that the integrity of the information is not compromised. I don’t want to sit here and speculate one way or another.”
Pamela Park of Appaloosa Trail spoke against the project. “Some don’t want this project at all,” Park said. “We’ve seen water on streets, oil on streets. You can’t go back once you’ve paved these roads.”
Richard Schechter of Appaloosa Trail said he thought that the dirt roads, with increased traffic and lack of fire hydrants, are safety hazards.
“When I came here 18 years ago, it was semi-rural,” he said. “It is now totally different. It’s incumbent on this council to make sure this happens. My guess is property values will go up 30 to 50 percent.”
Resident Brad Biggs, who has been a vocal opponent of the project over the past year, said the number of Saddle Trail residents who had withdrawn their support was greater than the village let it on to be. He read several names, including residents who had moved to Saddle Trail after the notarized survey had been conducted, who opposed the project.
Resident Kelly Caldwell-Sachs said she had supported the project since the beginning, but had become concerned after hearing information that the cost might be higher than originally estimated.
“I’m just a normal person,” Caldwell Sachs said. “My husband and I are still saving for retirement. For now, my vote still stands, but I’m concerned.”
She was especially concerned about what one resident brought up about traffic islands that had been recommended by the Equestrian Preserve Committee, and horse trailers’ inability to go around them without going up on the curb.
“If we’re paying for this job, I don’t think the Equestrian Preserve Committee has a right to determine what it will look like,” Caldwell-Sachs said. “I want paved roads and desperately want water and fire hydrants. My kids are always sick; the dust is ridiculous. It’s thick, disgusting, smoky dust.”
Equestrian Preserve Committee Vice Chair Michael Whitlow pointed out that his committee voted against the Saddle Trail paving project, although it had supported the water lines.
“I think this needs to be completely reconsidered,” Whitlow said. “I think the council owes the community to recount this stuff. I think you have to realize that this, in my opinion, is trashing the Equestrian Preserve. It is a huge mistake.”
Councilman Matt Willhite said he believed the project should go forward, and that many issues, including traffic islands, could be resolved.
“One of the most profound comments made was the residents paid for it, they want to have input on it,” he said. “I asked staff to put out a representation. I don’t think it means things can’t be changed.”
He also challenged allegations that the project would make it more hazardous for horses.
“How is the 20-foot road there now safe with a concrete truck coming through there?” Willhite asked. “It is very busy. When people say you’re creating a danger there, how can a 20-foot road be safe?”
Greene said he would also support the project. “What’s most important is this was not driven by the council but the residents of Saddle Trail,” he said.
Councilwoman Anne Gerwig said she still favored the project, but would prefer a revote.
“I love this project, and if I lived there I would be a ‘yes’ vote,” she said. “The project has changed, and it still will. I don’t see the disbenefit in another ballot, but let’s find out if we have two-thirds support.”
Councilman John McGovern said he found it compelling that it was a citizen-driven project.
“We’re here to represent the interests of the people, and this project came from the people,” he said. “I will vote to keep this project moving forward. The first vote was the vote that needed the two-thirds. This is an important project that has citizen support.”
Margolis said village staff had gone beyond what was required to get resident approval, pointing out that they had notarized the results. “I wouldn’t have agreed that a non-response is a no, but you still had 75 percent in favor,” he said.
Willhite made a motion to approve the assessment, which carried 4-1, with Gerwig opposed.