MAHTOMEDI — Instead of taking part in a Christmas light tour this holiday season, perhaps a tour of  vintage retaining walls would be in order before the walls as we know them exist no more.

Residents of Mahtomedi's west Historic District packed City Hall for the Nov. 19 regular council meeting and public hearing to defend their retaining walls and trees from demolition in advance of next spring's public improvement project in their neighborhoods.

For an hour and a half, discussion went round and round the retaining walls before council unanimously voted to authorize final plans and specifications for the project. Residents were nearly unanimous in expressing concern that their individual retaining walls with unique masonry and creative stonework would be destroyed to construct the new water main and sewer system beneath new roads.

City Engineer John Sachi said he sympathized with residents but that unfortunately, some destruction would be inevitable in order for the badly needed new water main to be installed. He noted the city would build a new wall for anyone who wanted one.

Residents politely said they didn't want a “faux” wall that was lacking in the kind of character that made their village unique.

Council then moved the project forward with directions to city staff to research and provide better retaining wall design options, along with potential ways to fund those unique walls of choice.  Councilman Richard Brainerd noted that one homeowner said he would gladly pay some $6,000 to reproduce his present retaining wall.

Sachi agreed to take that direction and return to council in February to formally approve the plans and specifications that included walls with more character.

Plans for road improvements in the western Historic District began well before Oct. 15, when council passed a resolution receiving the feasibility study recommendations and called for a public hearing on the improvements. The 2020 Historic District Phase 4  ̶  West improvements involve the following roadways: Neptune Street from TH 244 to the west end terminus of Pine Street, Neptune alleyway from Neptune Street to terminus, Oak Street from TH 244 to Neptune Street, Tip Top Lane from Oak Street to terminus, Pine Street from Neptune Street to TH 244, Quail Street from Pine Street to TH 244, Rose Street from Park Avenue to TH 244, Park Avenue from Quail Street to Spruce Street, Spruce Street from TH 244 to Park Avenue back out to TH 244, and Tamarack Street from TH 244 west to terminus.

At the Nov. 19 meeting, council approved a resolution ordering Public Improvement Project Phase 4 West – Historic District Public Improvements, authorized preparation of final plans and specifications, authorized the advertisement for bids and authorized preparation of the preliminary proposed assessment roll for pending assessment purposes.

The city plans to undertake similar work on the east side of the Historic District in 2021.

Engineers estimate that costs to improve the west side of the Historic District will total $4.6 million. The street improvement fund will provide $2.3 million, the water utility fund $1.1 million, the sanitary sewer fund $105,000 and the storm sewer utility fund $460,000. Assessments to property owners will cover most of the remaining costs.

With some exceptions, the assessment for each home in the improvement area will amount to $6,850.

“I live in that area and thank the neighbors for their attention tonight,” Brainerd said. 

Water is the biggest issue in this neighborhood, with pipes breaking all the time, he noted. “Trees and retaining walls are very important to the residents here, because they provide character. And that's why people live here,” he said.

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