Pinecrest officials voted to save hundreds of thousands of federal grant dollars and build about two blocks of sidewalk along Red Road – but not before embarking in a rancorous debate several hours long.
In part thanks to federal grant dollars administered by the state, the village has spent years developing a plan to update transit infrastructure in Pinecrest to encourage walking and biking to school. Last month, as the council was readying to approve construction on the first phase of its Safe Routes to School initiative, council member Cheri Ball suggested taking out sidewalks from the plan.
Council members agreed to revisit the issue in April when Village Manager Yocelyn Galiano Gomez warned them changing their plans could put federal dollars tied to the project in jeopardy, and asked them to give her time to confer with state officials.
Early last week, Galiano told council members in an email that the state had been less than pleased about the village’s plans not to move forward with the two blocks of sidewalk. She was told, Galiano wrote, that the $194,000 tied to the project would be rescinded, that Pinecrest would need to reimburse the $40,000 it had received in grant dollars to design the project, and that potentially $1 million in grant dollars tied to a separate project for bike lanes along Southwest 104 Street could be in danger.
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On Tuesday, council chambers were packed with residents – both for and against the sidewalks – many of whom referenced an anonymous online group drumming up opposition to the sidewalks in the comments to council.
“I want to say unequivocally that what’s being put out there is not accurate,” Galiano told the crowd.
Chief among the online campaign’s controversial allegations: that 226 trees would be cleared to make way for the sidewalks. That number, a discussion between council member Doug Kraft and Galiano later revealed, actually referred to the trees the village would have removed if it had gone forward with one proposal for a bike lane along Southwest 104 Street. That plan, Galiano told Kraft, had long ago been shot down internally by staff, and a new design was in the works.
The council’s increasingly tense relations were again on full display, with Kraft telling mayor Cindy Lerner “you don’t get to tell me what to do” when she told him not to pursue a line of questioning with staff about the project for bike lanes.
“Yes I can, I’m chairing the meeting, and you’re out of order,” she retorted.
Bob Ross, with whom Kraft usually sides, introduced a motion to overturn Lerner’s decision to move the conversation along. The motion passed, with Kraft, Ball, and Ross voting in favor.
After nearly three hours of discussion, the council voted 4-1 to build the two blocks, and instructed Galiano to move forward with design work for the second and third phase of the project, which will lay additional sidewalks throughout the village.
Consultants hired by the village to develop a stormwater master plan last month unveiled preliminary plans for drainage infrastructure updates in the village at a meeting for residents. At the time, their plan drew criticism from Lerner, who argued it was based on sea level rise estimates far too conservative.
Lerner told fellow council members on Tuesday that she had “strong reservations” about basing “our capital improvement plan that will cost $40 million or more on data that will be out of date by the time we build it.”
The council agreed to set a workshop for May 7 to discuss the issue in detail and decide then whether or not to go forward with a peer review of the master plan.
It also agreed to let council lawyer Mitchell Bierman bring forward an ordinance to ban protests targeting individuals at their homes at the next council meeting.
A similar ordinance, lifted essentially verbatim from a similar municipal ordinance upheld by the Supreme Court in 1988 — making it basically impossible to challenge as-is — was considered by the council last year. At the time, the council sent the ordinance back for revisions, and instructed their lawyers to investigate additional provisions, including a buffer zone between protests and homes, a 72-hour notice to police for protests, and misdemeanor charges.