A possible trail extension on St. Joseph’s North Side has one man and his neighbors concerned about their property and safety.
The proposed trail would be built on the former Chicago Great Western Railroad Corridor from Cook Road to Blackwell Road and would cost the city $85,714. An additional $200,000 would be paid through federal funds.
Travis Smith, who lives on Blackwell Road, said the trail would go through part of his driveway. He told the St. Joseph City Council that he absolutely will not be selling his land to the city at a meeting last week.
The trail and surrounding property that the city would acquire is within feet of Smith’s garage doors, where he is often working with his brother.
He said the trail will be in a secluded, wooded area near a creek and will run through several backyards, making it an unsafe place for children to walk.
Smith, who is completely blind, said it also will make it difficult for him to know when someone is on his property.
“If I were to sell this property off, I can’t control who’s coming through here,” Smith said. “With me being 100 percent blind, that’s creating a safety risk on me, as well. You can’t regulate who’s on your immediate property.”
Smith also is worried about being liable if someone were to get hurt on his property. He added he is concerned about the city spending so much money on something that is not a priority.
“That kind of money doesn’t need to be spent on something for recreation use,” Smith said.
Smith said the electric lines in the area will mean that heavy service trucks will need access, which would require the trail concrete to be 10 inches thick, leading to more cost.
He said he approached the council months ago and has been trying to reach members to come to his neighborhood and discuss his concerns.
“I have reached out to the City Council members on the phone, I’ve even called the mayor himself and had emails put out offering for City Council members to come to my home and visit with the neighbors who have concerns,” Smith said. “The only city council member that has come out at the initial asking point was P.J. Kovac.”
Last week, Mayor Bill McMurray came to view the property and agreed that the current proposed plan could be problematic.
McMurray said he is encouraging city staff to work with Smith to find another plan for the portion of the trail on his property. He said building a privacy fence could help with some of Smith’s concerns.
Four different concepts have been reviewed by the public works department, and a fifth plan was suggested by Smith that would involve building the trail along St. Joseph Avenue to connect with Krug Park.
Director of Public Works Andy Clements said that plan would not be feasible due to the unevenness of the ground, which would lead to more cost.
“We’ve looked and will continue to look at different options, but if you look at that corridor, we quickly threw that out as unfeasible, if you look at the lay of the land,” Clements said.
He said a lot of fill and retaining walls would have to be built and that even more property would have to be acquired.
Rail-to-trail conversions are popular because the ground is already fairly level and draining systems are often already in place, leading to less cost, according to Clements.
He said the area is in need of a safe pedestrian trail because there aren’t many sidewalks, and crime concerns have not panned out around other trails that were built, and they tend to be relatively safe.
“The concerns about public safety or theft are usually dramatically overstated,” Clements said.
He said that nationally homes near trails tend to have increased property values.
While the city has not finalized any plans or property purchases yet, Clements said property can be acquired using the condemnation process.
“We always hope to acquire rights-of-ways or easements voluntarily, but as with any other public project, the city has a right to eminent domain if it’s required,” Clements said.
Smith said he believes it would be illegal to use eminent domain for this project.
The City Council is scheduled to vote on the extension at its April 22 meeting.