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Residents question city’s ‘spaghetti’ plans

Residents question city’s ‘spaghetti’ plans


By Scott Sullivan


Douglas’ effort to clear its plate of “spaghetti” lines — side yard water connections not linked to mains — met questions at a city council public hearing Monday.

The city has proposed creating three special assessment districts, apportioning some of the estimated $545,000 total cost to property owners in them and paying the rest itself, in order to bring water service up to state standards.

Not all residents who would pay are thrilled. Many Monday questioned what benefit they would receive, lack of advance notice of council’s intent and whether the move is legal.

Douglas wrote affected property owners Feb. 22 it planned to assess these districts, with payments, likely added to winter tax bills, spread over five to 15 years:

  • On Whittier Street south of Center Street, turning west on First Street to May Street. Property owners will contribute an estimated $74,318.10, the city $45,681.90 to this effort.
  • McVea Drive from Campbell Road south past Golf View to where it ends at the West Shore Golf Course redevelopment. Property owners will be jointly assessed about $148,291.10, the city $117,708.90.
  • Fremont Street from Union Street west to Ellis Street, then Ellis north to Center Street. Property owners will pay an estimated $80,476.66, the city $78,523.34.

Douglas engineer Brian Vilmont of Preina & Newhof told council Jan. 15 the estimated $545,000 total project was needed for the districts’ water supply infrastructure to meet Michigan Department of Environmental Quality regulations.

Work will involve installing an underground main in areas where needed and a way for residents to have easy access to it. Besides paying a specified frontage charge per foot, property owners also will be responsible for finding and paying for a way to connect to the main from the public right-of-way to their homes.

Vilmont said it was right that the city pay a portion because there is benefit to property owners outside the districts: overall enhancement to the public utility system.

Residents in the Whittier-First and McVea districts will pay relatively more, and the city less, than Fremont-Ellis landowners because they will benefit more directly from the improvements, Vilmont said.

Other city properties suffer from substandard water main connections and Douglas may eye assessment districts there in the future, city officials said.

Owners of 344 McVea Drive Betsy Scott, Susan Schuham, Ann Weisberg and Catherine Lamont wrote council claiming the parcel is vacant, they have no plans to build on it and consider it an extension of their backyard. They said if the new main benefits the West Shore Golf Course development, that builder should bear its cost.

Mary Anne Scarlet of 99 Fremont St., plus Robert and Patricia Engel of 147 Fremont, submitted near-identical letters claiming the assessment is not permitted by city ordinance or state law.

Both letters said the owners had no problem their water, had never complained about it, nor was there any problem with their lines crossing any other property owner’s land for which they required relief.

“The same can be said of every other property owner in the assessment district except one, the lot at 44 Ellis St. … This is not a ‘public improvement,’ but rather a private improvement for a single property owner,” their letters said.

Several speakers said Monday they would appeal their assessments. Mayor Linda Anderson thanked them for their input. “We will take them into account.”

A vote on establishing the districts could come as soon as the next council meeting Monday, March 19, in city hall at 7 p.m., the mayor said.