Special district may let neighbors get road improvements
Published: Thursday, April 18, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, April 17, 2013 at 7:09 p.m.
MELROSE — Hugh Nichols hates his street.
He lives on a graded road in Melrose that runs past the farm he owns with his sister, Penny Shipp. Limerock dust billows behind every passing car.
"It's ridiculous," he said. "There's a huge cloud every time a car drives down the road."
The road in question is known at various points as Northeast 35th Avenue, Northeast 255th Drive and Quail Street.
If he has just washed his truck, a dusty film will settle on it after just one trip down the road.
Nichols was recently pulled over by a Clay County deputy — not because he'd broken any traffic laws but because his license plate was obscured by dust. The deputy had to wipe it off to read it.
The tan road, which runs past several houses and through columns of trees lining both sides in some places, can be a bumpy ride.
"I run up and down this road probably 10 times a day, and it seems like every time I get the oil changed, I have to get a front-end alignment on my truck," he said.
Nichols has lived there for years and has had enough. He is willing to pay to smooth the street over — and so are many of his neighbors.
He started a petition to create a special assessment district within Alachua County that would encompass property owners along the street from Northeast County Road 219A to Northeast State Road 26. If established, parcel owners would agree to pay an annual property tax assessment to finance an alternative surfacing treatment for the roadway.
Nichols, as well as others who may be interested in establishing a special district along this Melrose street or in other areas of the county, is willing to pay because he doesn't expect the county to treat or pave the road on its own — at least not anytime soon.
The county has a $550 million backlog in road repairs and is working with the community to develop a 2014 transportation ballot initiative to help fund its efforts to reduce that backlog.
But the county routinely does grading work on graded roads every four to six weeks to help maintain them, said Michael Fay, development program manager with the county's public works department.
"I don't think the county would ever do it themselves," Nichols said.
Parcel owners making up 67 percent of the 81 affected parcels signed the petition he circulated, according to a March Alachua County Commission meeting agenda. Sixty percent is required to move forward.
If the district is established, the county would put an emulsion and gravel on top of the graded road, which would prevent dust, Fay said.
The biggest complaints about graded roads are the dust problems that come with dry weather and washboarding, which is when rivets form along the road that make cars vibrate when they drive over them.
"It's like a continual rumble strip," Fay said.
The treatment would cost about $271,500, according to the commission agenda. An annual assessment of about $335 would be levied per parcel, not counting financing or interest costs.
The county would front the money for the project, possibly through a commercial loan, and then the property owners would pay the county back on their property taxes, he said. Typically, the annual assessments last for 10 years.
Property owners like Nichols who own multiple parcels would pay more per year.
"Nobody I talked to was opposed to them paving the road," Nichols said. "Everybody was for it."
Nancy Hine, who co-owns property along the road but doesn't live there, signed the petition out of solidarity with her neighbors. She said she didn't mind the cost.
"It wasn't a huge concern because it was a good improvement," she said.
But sometimes property owners change their minds before the County Commission approves the special district.
"We haven't done a whole lot of them successfully," Fay said.
In the past, attempts to establish a district have failed because property owners came before the commission in opposition even if they initially supported the idea.
Typically, people balk after seeing their anticipated property tax bill for the coming year with the annual assessment added on, Fay said. Seeing the extra money on there, as opposed to just hearing about it, can be concerning.
But some districts succeed, such as one in the Gainesville Golf and Country Club community that was approved a couple of years ago, he said.
Now that Nichols has submitted his petition to the county, the next phase will begin.
The county will conduct an interest poll by mailing it to affected property owners, Fay said. Sixty percent must respond, and of those respondents, 75 percent must support the district. Then it will come before the commission for approval.
Nichols is confident the other property owners will remain supportive of the plan.
"I made sure I told everybody that I asked to sign the petition what it was going to cost, so there's no surprises," he said.
Contact Morgan Watkins at 338-3104 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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