Residents of an Apple Valley neighborhood aren’t happy with the Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan School District’s plans to build a new early childhood and adult education center, citing worries about traffic and declining property values if the project proceeds.
They also believe the district hasn’t been completely clear about its plans and is rushing to build the facility, despite 14 meetings between December 2012 and the Nov. 12 school board meeting at which updates on the center were shared.
“As a neighborhood, we felt like we were blindsided,” said Steve Budnik, who lives on 144th St. W.
“I think it’s a lack of partnership with the neighborhood, it really is,” said Steve Robbins, who lives off 144th St. W. on Drumlin Court.
The district is already clearing the land for the proposed building, a two-story, 54,000-square-foot school that will house early childhood and adult education programs, currently held in leased spaces. Construction will begin in late winter, with completion planned in December 2014.
Residents’ reactions at the meeting were surprising, said Rob Duchscher, school board member.
“We’ve done everything according to the law, and we went above and beyond” what was required to inform residents of plans, he said. That included sending out a letter, posting signs and holding a community meeting.
“We’re trying to do what we can at this stage in the game” to respond to residents’ concerns, Duchscher said. But “we’re not going to stop construction,” he added.
As required, the city of Apple Valley also held a public hearing about the building on Sept. 4 and mailed a letter about that hearing to 60 homes, said Bruce Nordquist, the city’s community development director.
Between 35 and 40 people attended the board meeting two weeks ago, prompted by a letter written by Budnik, Robbins and others that was delivered to homes.
Resident Debbie Burger said she was concerned that another building was going in on “a postage stamp” lot though the district has other land. She also called for a crime study.
Robbins mentioned issues with aesthetics of the building and landscaping, and how busy the neighborhood will now be in the evening, since classes will be held until 9 p.m.
One point of contention concerns the Aug. 22 community meeting held by the district. Budnik, who attended the meeting with 15 to 20 neighbors, said he believed the meeting was a “preplanning meeting” that didn’t result in any concrete decisions. He said the district promised to communicate with residents about future plans.
But Jeff Solomon, the district’s finance director, said that the district was “very clear” at the meeting that it intended to build there, and shared an overview of the project.
A core question raised at that meeting was how the new building will affect traffic patterns, Solomon said.
A traffic study was suggested, and the district conducted one. Its results were followed up by a second, city-commissioned traffic study, which built on the first study’s analysis, he said.
“The findings of both confirmed that the current roadway can accommodate [the traffic generated by the new building] right now,” said Solomon.
However, the city’s study concluded that the project “pushed forward the time clock” on when the road will be unable to handle current traffic levels. Changes will be needed to the Diamond Path and 144th St. West intersection, most likely in the form of an added stoplight or more lanes, in five to seven years, Solomon said.
The new building will almost double the number of cars traveling to the site, according to Nordquist. But because 90 percent of the cars will enter via Diamond Path, only about 120 more cars will travel on 144th each day, Nordquist said, a 10 percent increase.
Budnik believes the neighborhood will be busier than that, because the study can only guess at where people will enter the facility, he said. He’s worried about kids crossing a busy street, or darting out from the long lines of parked cars along 144th during meetings and sports games.
The added traffic is what has people upset, “and I think that concern is valid,” Duchscher said.
But Budnik said he’s also concerned with property values, which could decrease for homes located on a much busier road.
After the August meeting, the district “saw controversy” and “decided to push it through anyway,” Budnik said.
The board is waiting on the traffic study’s recommendations, which it plans to follow. They may include signage, speed bumps or different ways of entering the school, but won’t affect whether the project will proceed, he said.
The project is missing a building permit, but that typically isn’t given until plans are finalized, Nordquist said.
Robbins said he and other residents just want to be heard. “I think what we want is to slow this down and address some of our concerns,” he said.
A meeting was held last Thursday by the city to discuss the traffic study further with residents, but most hold out little hope that the district will change its plans.
“The really bad part, I think, is that that building’s going up no matter what,” Budnik said. “We’re not going to stop it.”