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Brainerd council discusses assessments for Buffalo Hills Lane project

Brainerd City Council member Gabe Johnson explains his perspective on the Buffalo Hills Lane reconstruction project Tuesday, Sept. 4. Theresa Bourke / Brainerd Dispatch

Brainerd residents with land involved in the upcoming Buffalo Hills Lane reconstruction project will be assessed based on number of lots.

After in-depth discussions at both the Safety and Public Works Committee and the Brainerd City Council meetings Tuesday, Sept. 4, council members voted 5-0 to assess based on original platted lots instead of existing parcels of land. Council member Sue Hilgart abstained from voting, as she owns some land in the proposed project area, and council member Janice Lambert did not attend the meeting.

The project will see Buffalo Hills Lane reconstructed from just west of Graydon Avenue to Mississippi Drive and the creation of a 10-foot separated trail. Construction will also include a new storm sewer system and a stormwater pond near Ridge Drive, along with replacing the sanitary sewer castings and adjustments.

With the project cost estimated at $822,300, City Engineer Paul Sandy originally recommended Tuesday the council assess each property owner based on the number of parcels that exist today within the subdivision. Sandy said he favored this method over assessing based on originally platted lots because of how property owners have changed the parcels over time.

"The developments down on Buffalo Hills Lane west of Graydon Avenue were constructed prior to the street—Buffalo Hills Lane—being constructed to a city standard," Sandy said. "There were 42 original platted lots. There now exists 36 parcels of record today. This comes into being when people combine lots or split undivided lots and add them to their parcels."

Because of that, Sandy said, it would be difficult to decide how to assess lots that have been split unevenly between two or more land owners over the years.

Council member Gabe Johnson, however, noted that property owners could quickly combine several lots into one parcel, thus decreasing their assessment costs, and suggested assessing based on originally platted lots.

Sandy said Johnson's option would be doable but could take up more of staff's time and again pointed out that assessing split lots could be difficult.

City Planner Mark Ostgarden said he couldn't remember many lots being split in his time with the city.

Council members ultimately went with Johnson's suggestion, agreeing to assess 100 percent of the project by assessing the total number of originally platted lots.

"Their intent is to assess for 100 percent of the project. Our assessment policy, however, only assesses for what we would construct on a typical residential street. So in this circumstance, this is a state-aid street, so it has to be constructed to a little heavier standard," Sandy said over the phone Wednesday. "We don't assess for that extra gravel or depth on our bituminous surfacing in that circumstance."

That roughly $73,000 cost brings the assessment cost down to $784,551. But two parcels in the subdivision are unplatted, meaning their cost will be assessed based on footage adjacent to Buffalo Hills Lane. The assessment of one of those parcels comes to $77,664.30, bringing the total cost assessed to property owners to $670,886.70. But because the cost of the second unplatted parcel has yet to be calculated, Sandy estimates the total assessment cost to drop down to around $650,000, but that number is not final.

Whatever that final number is will then be divided by 282—the total number of originally platted lots in the subdivision—and landowners will pay according to the number of lots they have.

A public hearing on the issue will take place at a later date.

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