Island Hills Estates Sidewalk Project Meets Resistance

Island Hills Estates sidewalk project.
Island Hills Estates residents want a sidewalk along this 500 foot stretch of Island Lake Road.

For the residents of the 59 homes in the Island Hills Estates subdivision in Dexter Township, 500 feet of sidewalk along the south-facing side of Island Lake Road from Jessica Lane to Katherine Way would give the neighborhood’s pedestrians much more safety when walking or biking into the nearby Dexter downtown.

Island Hills Estate representative Eric Connell presented his neighborhood’s case for the sidewalk construction, which has already received $22,000 in financial commitment from the Dexter Wellness Coalition.

Two Washtenaw County Road Commission recommended contractors have provided bids to the neighborhood group led by Connell in the amounts of $22,000 and $30,000, which leaves a $6,000 funding gap that the group asked Dexter Township’s Board of Trustees to cover earlier this week.

“What I’m most interested in is the safety aspect of it,” Connell said. “My wife was a runner back before I was, and she’s had some incidents on Island Lake Road (along the stretch between Jessica and Katherine). There’s no shoulder on the road (and) the line on the edge goes directly to grass and kind of a berm.”

Island Hills Estates sidewalk
Island Hills Estates resident Eric Connell and Matt Pegouski, 5 Healthy Towns community investment manager.

Connell’s wife and other residents have had many “near misses” with traffic on Island Lake Road, which is a 55 mph roadway. The 500 foot sidewalk would connect with the existing sidewalk that was built when the Cedars of Dexter was constructed, providing safe pedestrian passage to Westridge and the Border-to-Border Trail.

Who should pay for this?

Township officials were particularly interested in hearing where the group was at as far as going through the legal process and if the Island Hills Estates neighbors had tried to tap their Homeowner’s Association for financial support before the township government.

“I like the idea of this definitely (but) but what are you doing as the subdivision — are you also putting money into this … what about your association” asked Township Clerk Debra Ceo.

Ceo and Board Trustees Carl Lesser and Michael Howard peppered Connell with questions and collectively expressed concern about opening a floodgate of resident requests for expanded sidewalks and other infrastructure that developers may have skipped to cut costs while developing the township’s residential areas.

“Well $6,000 isn’t very much, I’m not worried about that but it’s the principal,” Lesser explained. “How many more sidewalks are we going to have to build with all of the other subdivisions there are? I don’t want to open a can of warms. I’m altogether against it. We’ve got roads to keep up.”

Howard directly followed Lesser’s protest with his support.

“I’m not really into building sidewalks either … my concern is for the extra 1,500 feet of sidewalk (that still isn’t built either) and how much these subdivisions are going to come after us for funds,” he said.

Ceo, Lesser, and Howard each took issue with the idea of a fee-collecting HOA not footing at least some of the bill for the construction costs, although Connell did mention that the association would cover the ongoing maintenance costs for landscaping, trees and snow clearing.

Ceo recommended a special assessment district on the subdivision residents to pay for the project through additional property tax proceeds directly from those who would benefit from the project.

Project next steps

The Island Hills Estates neighbors are still seeking contract bids and must assign a fiduciary for the project. Permits must also be won from the road commission and the City of Dexter and Cedars of Dexter must be approached since the easternmost portion of the path is in their jurisdiction.

Connell said that the road commission has been helpful and positive. Roy Townsend’s office told the group that the developer gave up an excess 30 feet of right-of-way when the subdivision was being planned out, which allows ample room for this project. The sidewalk would sit farther back from the roadway than other sidewalks as planned since the road commission wants to keep open the option of widening Island Lake Road in the future.

Township Board Trustee asked Connell if the neighbors near the easement had been contacted, to which Connell responded that they had and were even happy about the project, since pedestrians have been using private property as a crossover point in lieu of there being a sidewalk anyway. Those neighbors will be screen with trees, as the project is currently planned.

Connell referred to this project as a “first step” when the topic of further sidewalk requests and sidewalk expansion in general came up in the meeting discussion.

“Once people see a sidewalk being built they will probably be excited and ask us how we did it,” he said. “There is an additional 1,500 feet in front of our neighborhood that isn’t going to be connected, so in order to get to Stoney Field there’s another 2,500 feet or half mill of sidewalk to get to Wylie Road. There’s still quite a gap there which is why we’re tackling this small project first.”

The neighbors would consider a special assessment at that time for more significant expansions north and south from Island Hills Estates, Connell said.

“I certainly understand the can of worms comment and once this is built people will probably ask ‘How did that get done?'” he added.

Director of Planning & Zoning Zach Michels told the board that this project is being proposed in an area that is designated for non-motorized transportation by Washtenaw County government and the Washtenaw Area Transportation Study, both of which he advised the group to contact.

“Although it wouldn’t be a huge impact to Lima, it would be good to go to them as well,” Michels said.

While the township didn’t cut Connell and his neighbors a check for thousands of dollars, Township Supervisor Harley Rider did request to put $3,000 into the preliminary 2016-2017 budget that will be hammered out starting with a February 16 budget workshop that will begin the township’s yearly budgetary process leading into the start of the next fiscal year on July 1.

Rider set the amount at not to exceed $3,000 since the current high bid is $30,000. This was done because there is precedent for the township to contribute 10 percent to infrastructure projects pertaining to or within private property in the past.

Ceo reiterated that she would need to see the association get more financial skin in the game before she would support appropriating 2016-2017 funding to the project.

Rider responded that while the community at large beyond the 59 homeowners in Island Hills Estates, he too would like to see either the residents or the association bridge any remaining gap in project funding.

Lesser said that if each of the 59 homes found $100 to spare they’d collectively close the $6,000 gap without any need for a government or non-government agency to put forward any funds.

The Island Hills Estates residents projected in their project summary document that the expected build time for the sidewalk is sometime during the 2016 calendar year, despite there being much work still to be done on the project’s pre-planning phase.

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  • More than enough money was set aside for the contingency costs on the Fire Station, but taxpayers need to put in more skin to see even $3000. WOW!!!

    And in other news, Washtenaw County spends several tens of thousands of dollars on side walks/asphalt paths to nowhere on Zeeb road (just north a Washtenaw County facility).

    Who will own the sidewalk? Who is responsible for maintaining it? Who has the liability associated with the sidewalk?

  • …and heaven forbid that the township spend taxpayer money on this group of residents for fear that other taxpayers will want their money spent on them too…Sheesh! Taxes aren’t for taxpayers…they are reserved for those who serve in government…didn’t you know?

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