The Eau Claire City Council will vote this afternoon on whether to continue pursuing a controversial roundabout project in the city’s 3rd Ward neighborhood near UW-Eau Claire after seeing rising opposition.
Fifteen city residents used their last opportunity at Monday night’s council meeting to give their opinions on the proposed roundabout for State Street and Roosevelt Avenue.
“Let’s go back while it’s on paper and rework this,” said Suzanne Nelson, who lives on Roosevelt Avenue just a couple doors down from the proposed roundabout.
The council will vote at 4 p.m. today on proceeding with a relocation order, the first step in the process to buy land from homeowners around the intersection to build the roundabout.
Owners of three of the four houses on the corners of the intersection spoke Monday night, with one stating that the final owner also won’t willingly sell land for the roundabout.
Stacy Haslow, an Eau Claire teacher who lives in one of the houses at the intersection, spoke Monday to give a face to families who would lose a portion of their property. She and her three boys enjoy living in their house on State Street, Haslow said, and are concerned about what they’d do if they lost a big chunk of their front yard.
“I worry about what this is going to do to my home,” she said. “I don’t want to sell. I don’t want to move.”
Matt McHugh, whose company Clear Water Real Estate owns one of the homes at the intersection, said he was persuaded by the testimony of families who live on the street to oppose the roundabout.
“That’s what has changed my mind strongly,” he said.
Others who live elsewhere in the 3rd Ward said they worry that reducing the value of the houses around the intersection would have a “domino effect.”
Former city Councilwoman Terri Stanley, who lives in the 3rd Ward, said while the city would pay those directly affected by losing their yards, the drop in value could spread.
“While these homeowners would be financially compensated for the loss, it doesn’t compensate the slide, the next-door neighbor and next-door neighbor,” she said.
Stanley and others anticipated that with the greatly reduced yards, the four homes would be converted into rental properties, likely aimed at university students.
“If you degrade these houses, really the only people who are going to live there will be students at some point,” said Kevin Rosenberg, chairman of the 3rd Ward Neighborhood Association.
He noted that more student rentals can have a bad effect on nearby homes that are still owner-occupied, prompting more people to sell and their homes to be rented.
Katherine Schneider, who lives a block away from the university on McKinley Avenue, expects the council will vote against the relocation order today, effectively negating their March 12 vote that added the controversial roundabout to the State Street project.
“I’m an optimist so I’m going to thank you for listening to the will of the neighborhood to not have a roundabout at the Roosevelt/State Street intersection,” she said.
She advised that the redesigned intersection include a concrete island between traffic lanes so pedestrians can more safely cross State Street. Signs alerting drivers to the crossing, including one with flashing lights that pedestrians can turn on by pressing a button, should also be included with the intersection, Schneider said. She added that the device used to activate the crossing lights also have features to let blind people like herself know by touch or sound when it is safe to cross the street.
Should the Roosevelt Avenue roundabout be effectively cancelled today, city engineer David Solberg said there will be meetings with the neighborhood and other stakeholders to discuss other designs for the intersection, which would be presented in early July to the City Council.
The council is also slated to vote on awarding a $4 million contract today to Haas Sons of Thorp to reconstruct nearly a mile of State Street. While the Roosevelt Avenue roundabout may get taken out of the project, there are three more roundabouts that would be created at other intersections along State Street, but the other ones do not require buying private land.