Planning consultant Ryan Mathisrud spoke to the Nevis City Council on Tuesday about a request from Gary Nicklason with Daisy Lake LLC to access property in Nevis Township, outside city limits, that he is developing as a 32-unit, seasonal RV park.
The property is located at the end of Wildwood Avenue, designated by the city as a minimum maintenance road.
Council member Teresa Leshovsky read a memo from Mathisrud describing four options to give Nicklason and his customers access to the property, including extending Wildwood Avenue past its current terminus.
Other options might include improving a platted right-of-way north of and parallel to North Street, improving a shared city-township right-of-way through Flagstone Road and privately accessing the parcel from County Road 2.
Speaking directly to the council, Mathisrud said the challenge to the city is that Wildwood Ave., currently Nicklason’s only access to the property, is not a true city right-of-way. That makes it a challenge to maintain.
“You can’t put underground (utilities) into it. You can’t expand the width of it. You can’t do drainage improvements, all that stuff, without acquiring a true right-of-way, and that needs to be obtained from adjacent property owners,” said Mathisrud.
He said an issue for the city is that if Nicklason or a subsequent owner decides they want to expand or change the use, the city would have no planning and zoning authority over the site.
Mathisrud said the city planning commission was seeking the council’s advice on how to move forward. “Does the city annex the property?” he said. “Do they move forward with some sort of development agreement that relates to maintenance and that sort of thing, or take the wait-and-see approach?”
Asked what this would mean for the Nevis taxpayer, Mathisrud said costs would focus around maintenance. With increased traffic, he said, the need for improvements might arise.
Nicklasons speak up
Nicklason’s sons, Brent and Trevor, also discussed the issue with council members, who were concerned about the city’s maintenance responsibility and increased traffic on Wildwood Avenue. They noted that, in part, the property in question lies within the city.
Referring to a passage in Mathisrud’s memo that discussed barricading the end of Wildwood Avenue, the Nicklasons said this would result in their family owning property in the city, and paying city taxes on it, without having any access to it.
Council member Sue Gray voiced concern about the potential for the RV park outside the city to be developed as a residential neighborhood. “And then Wildwood would be the road, but we wouldn’t be getting any tax money for it because it’s in the township,” she said.
Council member Blair Reuther suggested that by annexing the development area, the city would increase its tax base and cover the expense of maintaining the road.
The Nicklasons challenged this notion, pointing out another development in Nevis Township whose residents access it via roads out of the city, while paying taxes to the township. However, Mayor Jeanne Thompson said their use of city streets is very different from RV traffic.
History of the issue
Asked what it would take to develop Wildwood as a regular city street, Mathisrud said the city would have to obtain a right-of-way from adjacent property owners.
“The city’s never had this as a true road,” he said, describing its current status as a “prescriptive easement” based on the maintenance the city has provided in the past. A right-of-way would be required to make any changes to the road.
The Nicklasons said they aren’t asking for any changes to Wildwood Ave. However, Thompson said the use they propose will dramatically increase traffic on the road.
“We have to look at what the future could bring for that road as well, to make the decision as to how it best makes sense to move forward,” she said, adding that the council has to be careful how it spends taxpayer money.
She also noted that, being outside the city, the land’s use could change without consulting the city, and this would make it difficult for the city to set a policy regarding the road. For example, it was changed to a minimum maintenance road earlier this year when only a few homeowners expected to use it.
Thompson said the history of the road goes back to when a city police chief lived there and the city plowed it as a courtesy, so he could respond to emergencies. “It was just a piece of land that people drove through,” she said. “And now we’re looking at all of the work that goes into making it a street, and that’s not a simple thing.”
Planning Commissioner Emily Whitaker said all of the costs of creating the road will fall on Nevis taxpayers. “We have to think, long-term, what are the benefits and the costs to the city and the taxpayers of the city?” she said. “Are they gonna be willing to pay taxes on a road that accesses a property that doesn’t pay taxes back into the city?”
Thompson acknowledged that the proposed RV park would bring people to town who will spend money locally. “But where does it weigh?” she said, meaning revenues vs. expenses. “We also have to balance what is good business for our businesses and our town.”
The Nicklasons asked whether they could buy the road from its current owners. Mathisrud said if they assemble all the property through the platting process, they could dedicate the right-of-way to the city, which would then take on the maintenance; or, they could purchase the property and maintain it as a private driveway.
“So long as it doesn’t affect other property owners,” he said, “the city would generally vacate their interest in that, and it could be put to use as a private road, or you could obtain a different driveway access easement across a different property owner.”
Both ideas, he said, require the Nicklasons to purchase land or obtain easement rights from the current owners.
Council members noted that, in that case, the city would no longer provide any maintenance. Gray said she felt this was the most “doable” option.
Council members also advised the Nicklasons to grant easements to other landowners along the road, and that the city wouldn’t have to provide water and sewer service to those properties.
Gray said that if landowners along the private road would ever petition to make it a city street again, it would be possible but a lengthy and costly process.
Access in the deed?
Asked why the family purchased the property knowing it had no legal access, the Nicklasons said their deed says there is access via a minimum maintenance road.
Council members were concerned to hear this, noting that the previous owner did not own the road or have the power to convey an easement for it. Council members voiced interest in seeing the deed abstract.
“If it’s in your abstract,” said Mathisrud, “then a different property owner would have a burden on their property that would say, ‘I’m giving you access across my property to get to yours.’”
“Just because it was recorded that way doesn’t mean it was necessarily right,” Thompson added.
The council tabled the issue, pending review of the recorded deed and discussion by the planning commission, which meets at 6 p.m. Monday, Oct. 25 at city hall.