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Streets expand, yards shrink

by Tom Hasslinger
| June 26, 2010 9:00 PM

COEUR d'ALENE - He who giveth, taketh away.

But in this case, the city of Dalton Gardens never gave the few extra feet of property to homeowners along E. Hanley Avenue, it just didn't care they used it.

But now that the city needs it, well, as they say, easy come, easy go.

"I had such nice evergreen trees that my husband planted 30 years ago," said Cecilia Kolegi, who has lived on Hanley for as long as the trees had been there. "Why did they have to do that?"

Because the city is widening the street 5 feet for a bike lane.

Some homeowners were caught off guard, though, that the extra feet were being taken away from what they thought were their front yards.

"That was touchy for some people," said Shawn Metts, city project engineer. "A lot of people don't realize or have a good understanding of right of ways. They look out to the sidewalk and think it's part of their front yard, but it isn't."

Rights of way are portions of subdivided property that must be left over to the city or highway districts to allow for sidewalks and streets and utilities. Some Hanley property owners landscaped their lawns over the unused right of way property when the street was skinnier.

But now that it's thickening to between 55 and 60 feet over a mile long between Fourth Street and Government Way and Davenport and 15th streets, the city needs the right of way back.

In the process, some fence lines are being moved back, and shrubs and trees like Kolegi's are being torn out.

"I wouldn't say it happens typically, but it does happen often," said Marcia Wingfield, city clerk, on the land confusion, adding that the city would put the fences back in as part of the project.

The project is expected to wrap up around Aug. 19. Last year, they installed the roundabout at Fourth Street. Before any of it got under way the city held several public meetings, and also mailed newsletters to residents. But some missed the heads up.

Peter Redcrow's first reaction when he saw the tearing up near his home on the 1200 block of Hanley was that the city wasn't following the letter of the law.

"I thought it was dubious that they weren't following the Fifth Amendment of the Constitution by not reimbursing us," he said.

That amendment requires the government pay just compensation should it take personal property for public use. Redcrow even calculated he was losing 55 inches, or around $2,000 worth of land based on Kootenai County's assessed value.

But alas, the city didn't go beyond the setback line, so it didn't have to pay up. The assessor didn't include the setbacks when assessing value, either.

Metts said it's important for homeowners to know their setback requirements before they landscape.

"I didn't even know they were doing this," said Jason Younker, unaware of the construction but whose property was far enough back to avoid the digging. "I didn't find out until I tried to leave for work yesterday and couldn't get out."

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