Council misses its chance to make streets safer

At the recent Elk River City Council meeting, our mayor and council members voted to approve Casey’s General Store’s conditional use permit (CUP) near the intersection of Highway 10 and 171st Avenue NW in eastern Elk River.

For those of you familiar with the nightmarish intersection near Coborn’s and Northbound Liquors (located off Highway 169 and 193rd), our elected officials have chosen to create another trap challenging the safety of motorists and pedestrians trying to safely and seamlessly enter and exit from their residential areas.
It is yet another intersection designed and approved by our city staff where traffic coming off a major highway has the right of way over local resident and commercial traffic. The council voted to make an already “awkward” intersection at Yale Street NW and 171st Avenue NW much worse by allowing an extra 1,000 cars per day into the intersection which is already taxed by cars and semi-trucks trying to avoid the lengthy left turn queue at eastbound Highway 10 and 171st (a.k.a. Twin Lakes Road) by running east on Yale to make the light or make a quick right turn and continuing their way east on Highway 10. Traffic coming out of the Casey’s site onto Yale Street will have less than 60 feet to ‘queue’ at the Yale/171st stop sign before trying to navigate their way back onto Highway 10 and dodging exiting cars from Highway 10 that have the right of way.

Our council wavered and threw the neighborhood a bone by asking Casey’s to try and work with the homeowner’s association to mitigate headlights from the traffic — missing much of the point.

Screening headlights does little to make us safe. One thousand additional cars, trucks and semi-trucks making deliveries 24/7 infringes on the basic tenants of what makes a community home.

The Elk River Planning Commission denied the conditional use permit application stating that “they believe that the proposed gas station will detrimentally affect the use and enjoyment of other property in the immediate vicinity or the public health, safety, morals, comfort, convenience or general welfare of the neighborhood or the city.” Despite concerns from over half of the Mississippi Ridge Townhome Association owners who attended or spoke at the Elk River Planning Commission meeting in late August and again Monday evening at the City Council meeting, and despite the Planning Commission’s careful and well-thought rationale to deny the permit, the mayor and council members didn’t have the intestinal fortitude or common sense or strength of character to just say ‘no’ to another business wanting to infringe on residents trying to maintain some semblance of neighborhood or community.

The threshold for the council was simple — will an additional 1,000 cars per day on a residential street negatively impact lives and homes of residents and the lives of the adjoining property owners making them less safe, less comfortable, less enjoyable etc.? The Planning Commission clearly saw the infringement to the homeowners and business owners along Yale Street, but Council Member Westgaard and Mayor Dietz emphatically said ‘no.’ The mayor stated that ‘if we don’t approve this there will be another just like it later;’ that statement clearly implied that it’s just best and easier to be done with this now even though it negatively impacts the lives of the Mississippi Ridge neighborhood. Unfortunately for our Elk River neighborhood, the rest of the council went along.

Our mayor, council members, and city staff did us wrong. Most disturbing and disappointing is that Ward 4 council member, Jennifer Wagner, knowing full well the impact the 1,000 cars per day would have to the safety, enjoyment, comfort, convenience and general welfare of the residents she represents, voted against the homeowners. — Brent and Pam Richter, Elk River