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Posted: February 19, 2013 EC City Council Looking to Buy Land for Recreation Trails

In an ongoing effort to create more recreational trails in Eau Claire, the city is looking to buy land between the Chippewa River and First Avenue.

On Tuesday, the City Council voted to seek a state Department of Natural Resources grant pay half the costs of waterfront property currently owned by Charlson Building & Design, a downtown lumberyard at 97 W. Madison St.

Councilman Andrew Werthmann, a member of the city's Waterways and Parks Commission, said creating more trail sections has been a long-term goal of the city.

"That's an overall strategy we've been trying to employ throughout the downtown," he said. "It's an idea of connecting it."

According to city land records, the property is assessed at $347,000, but there is the possibility that only a portion of it would be acquired.

Business owner Stewart Charlson said he's been in contact with the city, but his stance has been to sell a portion of the property and keep the business going.

"The back is what they're mainly interested in," he said.

If the city does make a deal on the lumberyard property, city parks, recreation and forestry director Phil Fieber said it would be years before it would be redeveloped into a trail. He expects the city's West Bank Redevelopment District north of Charlson would need to see more activity before a trail would be extended along that side of the river. But he noted that trail is part of multiple city plans.

"We know we're going to want that connection underneath Madison Street," Fieber said.

The city already got a DNR grant and is closing on a house on Cameron Street, which would help complete a trail around Half Moon Lake.

After the sale of 813 Cameron St. is complete, Fieber said that will make the city more likely to allocate money toward that piece of trail.

"No one likes to set aside funds until you get the property," he said.

The city also is waiting for approval of a DNR grant to buy 925 Addison St., a house bordering Dells Pond and Mount Simon Park. If the city can make a deal, the house would be moved so the land could be used to expand the park.

That home and a couple of neighboring ones have been targeted for parkland in plans dating back more than 50 years, Fieber said. However, the city waits until there is a willing seller before trying to acquire them, he added.


Barstow work approved

The Eau Claire City Council voted 9-1 Tuesday evening on a $2 million reconstruction project for five blocks of South Barstow Street - from Lake Street to Eau Claire Street.

"This is an opportunity for us to be making a substantial investment in our downtown, not just for now, but for future generations," Councilwoman Catherine Emmanuelle said.

Although Tuesday's vote gave the project a green light, the council still will have the chance to review bids from contractors, which are expected to arrive in April.

Even then, deputy city engineer Doug Derks said, a business committee will still be able to suggest some changes to the style of streetlights, benches, trash cans and a few of the minor amenities.

"It's really their call," he said. "Maybe now they've seen the cost all together, they might change what they want to do at that location."

Councilman Werthmann cast the lone dissenting vote, arguing that $625,300 in special assessments being levied against downtown businesses was too much. His position was to spread more of the costs across all city property taxpayers.

"People would be willing to pay a dollar or two to share the burden," he said.

But Councilman David Klinkhammer replied that the businesses will be seeing a greater benefit of the new street than the rest of the city will.

"Downtown businesses are the individuals who's properties stand to gain the most in value," he said. The whole community will benefit, no doubt. But it's those properties will gain the most in value with the revitalization of downtown."

If everything goes as scheduled, the project would begin on May 28 and finish by Aug. 16.


Survey affirms two-way

Business leaders support Eau Claire's decision to change downtown streets in September to two-way traffic after they had been one-way streets for about 42 years, according to a survey.

An Eau Claire Area Chamber of Commerce survey reported that 82 percent of respondents felt the two-way traffic flow is working on South Barstow Street and Graham Avenue.

About two-thirds of the 524 people who answered the survey stated they prefer two-way traffic to the previous one-way downtown streets.

More than 97 percent of the survey-takers had driven downtown streets since the traffic switch was made.

Although City Council President Kerry Kincaid said she expected the feedback would be generally positive, she didn't foresee the overwhelming proportion of those that favored the switch.

"I was surprised it was such a strong positive outcome," she said Tuesday.

The chamber sent 2,300 emails on Feb. 5 to its members, asking for them to fill out the three-question online survey. Results were reported Tuesday in an email newsletter.

Loading zones created by the city since the switch have not met to the satisfaction of all shop owners, Kincaid noted.

But the city is working to change them - at least one already has been relocated - to work better for businesses, she said.

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