OAK PARK HEIGHTS — Residents in one neighborhood are caught between some gravel rocks and a historic place.
A state Department of Transportation plan to connect the northern part of Peabody Avenue to Lookout Trail was panned by some residents Tuesday at an Oak Park Heights City Council public hearing on the idea.
MnDOT and Oak Park Heights city staff developed the Peabody-Lookout Trail connection after the state agency this spring closed the northern part of Peabody where it connects with the drive into the Scenic Overlook as part of the St. Croix River Crossing bridge project.
MnDOT proposes a gravel section connecting Peabody Avenue with Lookout Trail so residents a second way out of their neighborhood. The council issued MnDOT a city permit to proceed with those plans at a special May 22 meeting.
St. Croix Crossing Project Manager Jon Chiglo said the Peabody-Lookout Trail connection site was selected because it has the least adverse affect on the Scenic Overlook, which has been deemed a historic site and will be restored to its original condition.
“That’s the option we would like to move forward with,” he said.
City Engineer Chris Long admits using gravel could cause some issues, but said MnDOT’s proposal was acceptable.
“I think this is the best solution you’re going to get,” he said.
However, several residents questioned using gravel on the new connection and the six percent grade on Peabody Avenue at the site.
“It’s a better grade but it feels like the situation we ran into on the other side,” said Douglas Van Dyke.
“You’re making this gravel. Why?,” asked Ted Gilbert. “You just don’t make gravel roads. Why not blacktop?”
“I grew up on a dirt road. I don’t mind dirt,” said Aaron Bye. “But on a slope there will be maintenance for the city.”
Other residents questioned the concerns over the Scenic Overlook historic designation. But Karen Zschomler, (CQ) MnDOT cultural resources unit supervisor, said because the bridge project is getting federal funds, MnDOT is required to protect all designated historic sites.
Zschomler said the how the overlook was constructed in the 1930s and its age led MnDOT in the 1990s to designate the area as a historic site.
Chiglo added that any attempt to reconnect Peabody Avenue to the overlook drive would be considered an adverse impact and require more study. He termed that study process “indefinite.”
But Chiglo said MnDOT staff would consider suggestions by residents and city staff in further development of the Peabody-Lookout Trail connection.
“They do bring up valid concerns,” he said about residents’ comments. “It’s a design that avoids impact to historic property. This is something on paper. We can do something a little more accommodating.”
Chiglo also said paving the proposed gravel connection could be considered.
“If there’s a request to pave, MnDOT and the city would have to have a discussion about payment,” he said. “That’s something your staff and MnDOT would have to sit down and have a discussion on.”
If the Peabody Avenue-Lookout Trail permit process continues, Chiglo said the construction on the connection could start later this year.
“It can be built by October this year,” he said.
When the hour-long hearing ended, the council opted to let MnDOT continue the Peabody-Lookout Trail connection permit process.
But one resident asked city officials for a “useful” solution to the Peabody Avenue closure.
“The thing I’m really getting angry about is historical,” said Jennifer Van Dyke. “What about useful? I just want something useful.”