Residents say road upgrades will mar neighborhood feel

PHOENIX — A conceptual plan for improvements to North Church Street that would widen travel lanes but eliminate 30 to 40 trees drew requests for a less-expansive project from residents who testified before the City Council.

“This is a beautiful little stretch of what was described to me as historic Phoenix when I bought the house," resident Martha Hess told the council Jan. 2. “The trees are beautiful. The way people are taking care of the houses is beautiful. To do this would be the saddest thing. It’s just plain overkill. We don’t need double sidewalks. We don’t need to make roadways more important than what neighborhoods feel like.”

About 2,000 linear feet from First to Sixth streets is scheduled for an upgrade this year. As proposed, the project would have two 10-foot travel lanes in both directions, 8-foot parking on both sides of the street, 5-foot sidewalks adjacent to curbs and curb extensions at intersections. Those standards are called for in the city’s Transportation System Plan. The current street is about 16 feet wide with no sidewalks.

“We don’t have a final design,” said Planning Director Evan MacKenzie. "This is what the TSP calls for. We haven’t gotten into a lot of details on individual lots." He also explained that modifications could be made to reduce some impacts.

A preliminary survey and schematic layout found there are a number of encroachments, including some structures, driveways and fences, into the public right of way, which is 60 feet wide.

Improvements have been in city plans for a number of years, and funds are now available. The capital improvement project is budgeted at $715,000 and would affect 36 properties. A total of six properties have deferred improvement agreements that would require payment of $12,000 over a period of years for a lot with 60 feet of frontage.

Variations could be made to the TSP standards with approval from the Planning Commission, MacKenzie told the council audience. Possibilities might include a sidewalk on just one side of the street or parking on just one side.

Public Works Director Ray Dipasquale said that because of grade differential between homes on the east side and the roadway, a single sidewalk would be better on the west side and that fewer trees would be impacted with that location. Americans With Disabilities Act requirements must also be taken into consideration, said Dipasquale.

Beside road and sidewalk improvements, public and private utilities would get upgrades. City Manager Eric Swanson stated the project is designed to accommodate city needs for 50 to 75 years.

Several residents said conversion of Main Street (Highway 99) from two lanes to one lane southbound has resulted in more vehicles on Church Street.

“Better condition of the road would allow for better traffic flow,” said Jacqueline Rayburn, who lives in the 400 block of Church Street. “I don’t want better traffic flow through Church. We already see a ton more traffic because people are so far backed up on Main Street (that) they are cutting in at the Post Office and drive down our street to get through town.”

Trees and the small-town feel are why she chose to buy her house, said Rayburn.

Tony Chavez, who worked to get a speed bump installed in the 300 block of Church Street to help slow traffic, wondered about the future of that installation. Other residents talked about the value of trees, the old homes in the neighborhood and reducing the total width of improvements from the 46 feet required by the TSP.

Eight people spoke at the session, and a comment letter was read. The council will take additional public comments when it meets Tuesday, Jan.16, and it will deliberate on how to proceed at its Feb. 5 meeting. Council sessions are held at 1000 S. B Street beginning at 6:30 p.m.

— Tony Boom is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at

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