A 180: Forestdale residents request no special assessment

By: Robert Guttersohn | Royal Oak Review | Published July 23, 2013

ROYAL OAK — At the behest of Forestdale Road residents, the City Commission took no action July 15 on creating a special assessment for a two-block section of the residential street, which would have provided an avenue for property owners to pay for its resurfacing.

The commission’s non-decision essentially killed the potential road project but left open the possibility for residents to fill out another petition and come back before the commission at a later date.

In May, the commission approved a petition signed by 51 percent of property owners on Forestdale, between Catalpa Drive and Farnum Avenue. The decision set into motion a series of events that included establishing the cost estimates for each homeowner and a public hearing for the July 15 commission meeting. At the hearing, residents presented the city with a new petition, showing more than 60 percent of affected residents were now against the special assessment.

Matthew Callahan, the interim city engineer, said that 12 property owners changed their minds between the first and second petition, and two properties have new owners who signed the second petition.

“That changes the dynamic a little bit,” said Commissioner Peggy Goodwin.

Property owners at the meeting said they changed their minds because when they signed the initial petition, they believed it was only to obtain more information from the city and not to move forward with it. They said they believed they would later be signing another petition with cost estimates before there were to be any public hearings.

“I was under the impression that this was just to get information,” said resident John Sharp, who signed the first petition for the special assessment but then signed the second against it. “I was told nothing is going to happen until everyone agrees once they look at something.”

Leigh Dobbs, who said during the public hearing that she was responsible for circulating the second petition, said the first one said nothing about approximate costs assessed to each property or that most banks require the special assessment be paid off before selling a home — a fact that City Attorney David Gillam confirmed later in the meeting.

“People now realize that the petition last year was their only say in the matter,” Dobbs said.

Residents did acknowledge that the street is in disrepair and needs to be fixed.

“I think the citizens and residents need to know that it is not going to get done unless we pay for it,” said Forestdale resident Michael Rex.

City Manager Don Johnson confirmed that fact, saying that because the street is considered low priority to the state, the only way it would be resurfaced is if local residents paid for it through a special assessment or through the passage of a road millage. He said the city has not put money into roads for years and the state will not pay for residential streets like Forestdale.

“One way or another, it’s going to have to be paid for locally,” he said. “Nobody else is going to pay for it.”

Some signers of the second petition showed interest in studying the cost estimates that were made available from the city and returning with another petition now that they more clearly understand the costs.

Callahan said that if residents were to decide on paying for the resurfacing within seven years, the city would absorb about 30 percent of the costs because it is planning to install a new water main on Forestdale within that timeframe.

If it had moved forward, the project would have cost Forestdale property owners $191,000, and the amount each homeowner paid would have been based on their property frontage, according to estimates prepared by the City Assessor’s Office. A home with 40 feet of street frontage would pay about $3,400 over 15 years.

Commission members said they would be willing to start the special assessment process all over again if Forestdale residents wished to do so now with the assessor’s estimates.

“We are still on that path,” said Mayor Jim Ellison. “Nothing’s changed. This is democracy at work.”