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Council votes to vacate Bell Street

Neighbors speak out against realignment plan
by: David Boehmke, This map shows both the existing Bell Street right-of-way (at the bottom) and the proposed realignment. The change would put Bell Street within 35 feet of the back of Coralburst Street homes.

Sandy City Council unanimously voted to vacate the existing, undeveloped Bell Street right-of-way, with plans to realign the street to make room for a future Sandy High School campus.

The dedicated roadway, which has been in city possession since before Sandy's incorporation, is extremely important to the city's long-term transportation plan, said city officials, because it provides east-west access on the north side of Highway 26, as Dubarko Road does for the residents on the south side of the highway. Once constructed, it would provide much-needed access to 362nd Avenue (extended sometime in the future) and Highway 26, which would relieve the overburdened Green Mountain Street in the Sandy Bluff subdivision.

Bell Street also would connect to a new north-south street that would provide Sandy Bluff residents access to Kelso Road.

As it exists now, the Bell Street right-of-way is a straight east-west connection, which would bisect the property owned by the Oregon Trail School District. To help the district make the most of its land, the city agreed to look at curving the street around the site where a future high school would be built.

That realignment would bring Bell Street much closer to the back fences of homeowners on Coralburst Street than the original plan. Those homeowners turned out in large numbers at the council meeting, and a half-dozen citizens spoke out against the realignment. The city received a petition with 30 area homeowners declaring their opposition to the plan.

Most residents said they felt that the relocated street would bring a dangerous amount of traffic (most of it from teenage drivers) into the neighborhood, and the access could give criminals easier access to their homes and children.

Instead of realigning Bell Street, the plan's opponents urged the council to vacate Bell Street altogether and use the road just as an entry point to a secure new high school campus.

The city's Bell Street plan would offer a 20-foot wide buffer at the narrowest point between the north right-of-way line and the south line of the Coralburst Street properties. The city says that given the width of the Bell Street bike lane that would go in, a planter strip, a sidewalk and 20-foot buffer, the shortest distance between the nearest travel lane and rear property line of any lots on Coralburst would be more than 35 feet.

Ultimately, the council decided that the need for an arterial in the Sandy Bluff area and the desire to accommodate the school district left them with no choice but to vote to vacate the existing right-of-way. The vacation doesn't take effect until the council approves a rededication at a subsequent meeting.

In the meantime, councilors indicated that they wanted to meet with school district and neighborhood representatives to discuss details and to try to build consensus among the parties.

Opponents' quotes:

Angie Melcher, Coralburst Street: 'Having a street there is not safe. It's going to give predators more access to our back yards. Our backs are going to be turned to the street. It's going to be a danger to little kids, older kids - any of them - when our backs are turned.'

Nate Jackson, Emerald Cascade Street: 'The realignment was a short-sighted, half-baked idea when it was first proposed, and it still is. Bell Street should be completely vacated, giving the campus limited, monitored access. That's the way you build a high school campus nowadays.'

Janelle Nagle, Coralburst Street: 'We're excited at the possibility of a new high school and we will vote in favor of it. But as a parent, I'm concerned about such a major road in such close proximity to the school, with child predators, drug dealers… let's take the opportunity to make the campus as safe a place as possible.'

Bob Cecil, Coralburst Street: 'It is in your capacity to completely vacate the existing roadway and go no further. I'm opposed to relocation, not vacation.'

Nancy Edgar, Coralburst Street: 'I'm concerned about small children also in their back yards and the for the high school students that will be using that area. Find another alternate roadway.'?Susan Edgar, Coralburst Street: 'I'm concerned about what this means to my property values, with vandalism, litter, theft and noise (the road could bring). A home is more than just property, it's a safe haven. I'm concerned about bringing a bad element so close to schools.'

Proponents' quotes

Tim Belanger, Oregon Trail Schools: 'We don't believe it's our role to petition you to completely vacate that arterial. Our goal is to work to make the best of both worlds. We're seeking to keep the highest function of that site for our purposes.

Phil Moyer, city councilor: 'It doesn't make sense for a street to go through the middle of (the school)… I'd like to see some additional discussions take place between the neighbors, the school and the city as to how it will ultimately look, but I think the best alternative we have is before us right now.'

Steve Nerz, city councilor: 'Three groups have needs (the school district, the city and the neighbors). It would be great if we could meet all sets of those needs, but I don't see a way to make all three parties happy here. We're all trying to look at what's best for the community and make the best decision we can.'

Linda Malone, mayor: 'With the current topography in the area and with existing houses and streets, it's going to be tough to find an alternate route. Younger drivers have a larger tendency to drive recklessly, but 35 feet is a pretty good buffer for a car. This is probably the only logical alternative.'