Several 3rd Ward neighborhood residents urged the Eau Claire City Council on Monday to reconsider last month’s decision to build a roundabout at State Street and Roosevelt Avenue.
Three of four property owners the city intends to negotiate with to buy a portion of their lawns for the roundabout were among those who spoke against the project during Monday night’s public comment portion of the council meeting.
“It is not safe because it will bring an increased flow of traffic closer to our residences and where our children play,” said Eric Torres, owner of a home at 1716 State St. and a member of the Eau Claire school board.
He also said that noise and light from cars making their way around the roundabout will decrease the quality of life for people living at that intersection.
On March 12, the City Council voted 10-0 to approve an amended State Street project that includes a roundabout at the Roosevelt Avenue intersection.
Plans presented by city engineers had recommended keeping the existing intersection there but adding a concrete island in the middle of a section of State Street between traffic lanes to give pedestrians refuge while crossing the street.
Councilman Jeremy Gragert said during that meeting that while the roundabout will cost more, it will improve safety and slow traffic at the bottom of the State Street hill near the UW-Eau Claire campus.
Monday night was the first chance for 3rd Ward residents to reply to the decision — a March 25 council meeting was canceled due to lack of agenda items — in person to the entire council. Ten people spoke against the roundabout.
Sharon Hildebrand, who lives elsewhere in the 3rd Ward but also opposes the roundabout, asked Councilwoman Kate Beaton to hold one end of a tape measure. Hildebrand walked 13 feet backward and said that would be the distance between homes and traffic in the roundabout, based on early designs for it.
Liz Kennedy-Wiechert said she’ll no longer feel comfortable allowing her children and their friends to play in her yard at 304 Roosevelt Ave. because the roundabout will bring traffic closer.
Stacey Haslow showed a map with her home and an orange triangle highlighted on it where the proposed roundabout would take part of her lawn. As a mom of three boys, she said she’s very concerned about losing that buffer between her house and traffic.
Laura Bucholtz, who lives two blocks north of the proposed roundabout, said while roundabouts do slow down traffic, they have more crashes of lower severity.
Haslow agreed that the crashes she’s seen at the current intersection, which has stop signs on Roosevelt Avenue and through traffic on State Street, have been minor.
“The fender-benders I’ve seen out there (have been) from people watching their cellphones,” he said.
Other neighborhood members remarked that they felt blindsided at the addition of the roundabout to the project.
“I was very surprised when there was mention of the roundabout on Roosevelt,” said Sally Ronstrom, who lives on McKinley Avenue, a couple of blocks away from the proposed roundabout.
She then said she’s worried that reducing the value of the four houses at the intersection by taking parts of their lawns will have a domino effect on the neighborhood.
“Once those properties are somewhat blighted, than that blight continues,” she said.
Ronstrom suggested keeping the Roosevelt-State intersection as a two-lane road, but adding signage.
The entire State Street road construction project stretches about a mile from Garfield Avenue south to the city limits and will mostly happen this year. However, the addition of a roundabout at Roosevelt Avenue pushes that section of the project back to 2020.
A couple of 3rd Ward residents also spoke Monday night during a public hearing about UW-Eau Claire’s plans to build a two-story building on Roosevelt Avenue.
“We don’t have any problems with the visitor’s center,” said Kevin Rosenberg, chairman of the 3rd Ward Neighborhood Association.
Hildebrand did raise concerns about limiting light pollution and ensuring there’s an adequate buffer zone between it and a neighboring home.
Angi Goodwin, an Ayres Associates engineer on the project, said lights in the building’s parking lot will be on posts shorter than others on campus and new shrubs will be planted on the edge of the property to buffer it from the nearby home.
The council will vote today on a rezoning the university needs to proceed with starting construction this year on the $5.5 million, donor-funded building.