By Bob Uphues
Brookfield trustees voted unanimously on Nov. 13 to have the village engineer complete designs in order to determine the cost for paving two residential alleys in 2018, after residents of those blocks voted to move forward.
But trustees also voted to delay a decision on a third residential alley after residents aired concerns about possible problems with the process. And a panel of trustees also decided to abandon moving ahead with paving a fourth alley over the vehement objections of some residents there.
The two alleys that are moving toward improvement in 2018 are the alleys between the 3500 blocks of Forest and Prairie avenues and between the 4100 blocks Deyo Avenue and DuBois Boulevard.
The Nov. 13 votes don't mean the alleys definitely will be built, though that outcome is likely. Once the village engineer determines the estimated cost of paving the alley, which will give individual property owners an idea of what the project is going to cost them, the village board will hold a public hearing and then formally vote to approve the projects.
If approved, they would be the first residential alleys paved in Brookfield in a decade.
People who own property that front an improved alley pay for the construction through a special assessment on their properties. The village pays for legal and engineering costs.
The votes to approve the two alleys on Nov. 13 authorized paying the Edwin Hancock Engineering about $116,000 for design and construction engineering for the improvements.
Hancock will submit the estimate of costs in January for the public hearing prior to final approval.
Most of Brookfield's alleys are unpaved and are a perennial source of complaints from residents, who decry the potholes, dust and – most of all – flooding and standing water after heavy rains.
Public works employees over the years have tried to address the complaints by adding gravel, grading and, most recently, excavating to alleviate flooding. Fixes typically turn out to be temporary.
Village boards for decades have been reluctant to pave all of the alleys due to the overwhelming cost of such an effort – estimated most recently as being more than $40 million.
Instead, the village has decided to let property owners decide for themselves whether they want to foot the bill for paving an alley via a petition process that has its own built-in imperfections – from how signatures to gauge interest are gathered to the official vote to determine whether to even seek a cost estimate.
One such flaw caused the village board to table moving ahead with getting a construction cost estimate to pave the alley between the 4600 blocks of Blanchan and Eberly avenues. A tally of votes by property owners, weighted according to the lineal feet of property they owned, showed a 60-40 vote in favor of paving.
But at least one property owner said she mailed in her vote as instructed, and it was not recorded. Village President Kit Ketchmark confirmed that the village had no record of the woman's vote.
"I'm concerned about the vote, and I know staff tries to stay on top of this and things happen, but I think it's close enough that there are some issues and I'd like to at least have the Board of Local Improvements discuss other steps to be taken before we go forward," said Trustee Michael Garvey, who moved to have the matter tabled.
The Board of Local Improvements consists of Ketchmark, Garvey and trustees Nicole Gilhooley, David LeClere and Michelle Ryan. They will meet to discuss the 4600 Blanchan/Eberly alley at 5:30 p.m. at the village hall, 8820 Brookfield Ave., prior to the village board's next meeting on Nov. 27.
The Board of Local Improvements met prior to the Nov. 13 village board meeting, voting to recommend moving forward with cost estimates for all three alley paving projects. The village board voted to move ahead with just two.
In addition, the Board of Local Improvements voted to abandon paving projects for four other residential alleys. In three of the four cases, property owners voted against moving ahead.
The fourth – the alley between the 9000 blocks of Sheridan and Grant avenues – was more complicated.
Initially, it appeared that the alley had won approval of a lineal-foot majority. But the Board of Local Improvements later decided that wasn't the case after an important player for that project, St. Paul Lutheran Church, informed the village it wasn't interested in paving the alley.
The church hadn't voted one way or another, said Ketchmark, because they wrongly believed their property tax-exempt status would have shielded them from paying their portion of the alley construction.
St. Paul Church's property accounts for about 20 percent of the total lineal feet of the alley.
That didn't sit well with some residents, who believed the alley was on its way to approval with a majority "yes" vote.
"The people did vote and they did win the yes vote," said Sue Berthel, a property owner who wants the alley repaved.
Berthel said the people who live along the alley, which floods when it rains, want it paved. The church, whose members use the alley heavily but who don't live there and aren't affected by the problems, should pay up.
"Those people don't live on Sheridan and Grant," Berthel said. "They don't pay property taxes, they're big users of the alley … How can you arbitrarily change your village of Brookfield rules?"
Village Attorney Richard Ramello said the rules used by the village to conduct the petition process aren't legally binding. Further, he said, it didn't make any sense to spend tens of thousands of dollars in engineering costs if, at the public hearing stage, there wouldn't be a majority of property owners in support of paving the alley.
"It'd be kind of a waste of taxpayers' money to spend the kind of money that's necessary to prepare the estimate of cost and design specifications and plans and then have an overwhelming majority of the property owners … I don't think it makes much sense for the Board of Local Improvements to recommend to the board of trustees to do that."