Unanimous council shelves Dundee-Summit roundabout
It was in the planning for 19 years, but it took only about 19 minutes for the Elgin City Council on Wednesday night to dump controversial plans for a roundabout at Summit Street, Dundee Avenue and North Gifford Streets.
The council’s unanimous vote came after a presentation by city staff that focused less on the mixed reception to the plan and more to the change in circumstances that, for now at least, ended the need for it.
City Manager Sean Stegall told the council that the staff’s recommendation to drop the $3.3 million plan and redirect the $1.2 million the city had budgeted for its share of the project costs did not represent a rejection of the concept of using roundabouts to better control traffic.
He stressed three points about the decision — first, that “the world changed” in 2008 — the year of the Great Recession, which accompanied the decline in the housing market.
The criteria leading to the planned changes at the intersection were based on growth projections made long before 2008 brought the city’s growth patterns to a virtual standstill for that area.
Stegall’s second point related to the city’s used of eminent domain to acquire property for the project against the property owner’s will. Elgin Cleaners, situated between Dundee and North Gifford, would have been targeted for demolition to accommodate the roundabout. Stegall said condemnation should be a last resort and should be used only when it is “overwhelmingly for the public good.” That public good, Stegall said, evaporated when the recession interrupted the city’s growth.
Finally, he said, the staff recommendation should not be perceived as a condemnation of roundabouts. The idea simply is no longer a good idea for that intersection at this time, he said.
Still, the staff’s recommendation to shelve the proposal was greeted with joy by Councilman John Prigge, a longtime critic of the roundabout.
“Happy day,” he exclaimed to the council. “It’s a good opportunity to say goodbye to this project.”
Councilman Richard Dunne also spoke about the issue, but he said he wanted to set the record straight in regard to the Dunkin' Donuts property at the northeast corner of the intersection.
Dunne said there is a perception among the public that the city shut down that business for the purpose of acquiring the land needed for the roundabout.
That, Dunne said, is not true. The business actually closed because the partnership fell apart, well before the city acquired the property.
Public Services Director David Lawry added that the city only needed a small sliver of the former Dunkin’ Donuts site for the roundabout. The city actually purchased the land with tax increment financing funds as a way of controlling future development on the site.
In response to questions from Dunne, Lawry added the building on the site eventually will be demolished.
Councilman John Steffen expressed hope that the city still might do work on the intersection to better realign Summit Street. Stegall cautioned, however, that with few monies available for street projects in the coming years, there well may be other priorities.
Finally, Mayor David Kaptain emphasized that the roundabout plan was abandoned based on traffic pattern changes. His greatest concern since January, he said, was the use of eminent domain to take commercial property. As Stegall had said earlier, Kaptain indicated he is reluctant to consider eminent domain without an overwhelming benefit to the community. “I just don't see it any more” at this intersection, he said.
Kaptain added that eminent domain fights get ugly and divisive and are expensive to pursue in court.
“The change in the development plans and traffic flows shifted the balance in this project, and the taking of the properties are no longer worth it,” he said.
The roundabout design was pursued by the city after businesses objected to a more traditional approach to intersection improvements. However, the traditional approach included lane configurations some businesses at the intersection said would be harmful to their enterprises.
The roundabout was adopted as a solution, although it was met with some resistance within the community.