City looking at options to continue progress on Mebane Greenway project

The City of Mebane is moving forward with its plan to construct a Greenway that would connect the Mebane Arts and Community Center and Giles/Roosevelt Streets on the west end of town with Third Street to the east, as well as Holt Street to the north. But as the project is coming together, town officials and planners are looking at a variety of ways to address a growing issue of logistical concerns. Earlier this month, the City of Mebane's Bike and Pedestrian Committee voted unanimously to approve a study to determine the feasibility of moving forward with the East-to-West track of the project with a connection from Third to Fifth Street. 

The City of Mebane is moving forward with its plan to construct a Greenway that would connect the Mebane Arts and Community Center and Giles/Roosevelt Streets on the west end of town with Third Street to the east, as well as Holt Street to the north. But as the project is coming together, town officials and planners are looking at a variety of ways to address a growing issue of logistical concerns. 

“As you all know, we’ve been working on the Greenway for several years. The Greenway is in the budget (for fiscal year 2020-21),” Mebane Assistant City Manager Chris Rollins recently told members of the town’s Bike and Pedestrian Committee. “In the last year, year and a half, we’ve been working with our consultant engineer trying to reduce the cost of the Greenway, reduce some of the bridges and boardwalks and get the wetlands finally sort of permanently delineated. And all of that has come together.” 

According to Rollins, the Greenway was originally set to start on the new Corrigidor Drive, running parallel to Roosevelt Street, tying back up to the West End on an existing right-of-way between nearby homes crossing a creek. It then headed over to the east, on the edge of South Mebane Elementary School and Third Street. The other end of the project is the north side, which crosses a nearby creek and skirts along the creek and a collection of nearby power lines. 

“What we sort of found out along the way, that got very expensive from the beginning,” Rollins explained. “Then we sort of switched gears after re-evaluating it, to try to get a new alignment that reduced the crossings, and shifted the alignment of the trail a little bit. Having to do that meant that we had to go back and redo the wetlands.”

Part of the original design included more stream crosswalks and a boardwalk to avoid those properties, but the price became prohibitive. Instead of crossing the nearby creek with a series of costly bridges, the current projected path stays on the west side of the creek, avoiding the creek and wetlands. But now the path comes within a few feet of numerous property lines heading north. 

“The line headed north to south moves pretty close to some houses over there,” Rollins said. “There’s four houses, and a couple of them, it’s a pretty hard impact on them. You get within 25, 28 feet of somebody’s house. The other one is 35 (feet). I think about that as 10, 11 of my steps. So I step out of my back door, 10-11 steps, and I’m on a trail. A lot of people might think that’s wonderful, but a lot of people think that’s not so wonderful.”

Rollins indicated that City staff went back and started talking about shifting the path all the way across the creek, but an adjacent property owner refused to allow access to land that was once a private landfill several decades ago. 

“We got an absolute no (from that property owner). You start getting into very unstable dirt (in an old landfill). That did not work out,” he said. 

In addition, the City learned several months back about a series of Duke Power transmission lines that severely hampers what can be constructed and developed in adjacent areas. Those concerns, along with issues regarding nearby creeks and wetlands, has created numerous headaches - not the least of which being the potential impact on local homeowners. 

“The Duke Power lines, we did not find out until very late in the game - within the last year - that it’s a Duke transmission line. Duke treats those transmission lines very differently than they do the power lines we see all over town. They limit crossing it. They limit running with it. And you’re not allowed to move dirt within 25 feet of it,” Rollins said. “When you put the stream buffers, the flood plains, the wetlands, the transmission line that’s in there, that’s about the only place they could snake through there.” 

“A month or so ago, we sent out letters and maps and illustrations to all the property owners,” the Assistant City Manager continued. “I’ve had some good conversations. I’ve had some not so fun conversations. So far, two of the property owners we have talked to, we haven’t met with them in the field, it was not a fun conversation. And they’re the two who are impacted the least. I have not spoken with the other two, where we get 25, 28, 35 feet from their house. But I don’t anticipate that going well.”

Rollins added that in order to stay on track on that particular North-South track, “it sort of feels like we would probably have to condemn property to move forward.” 

“The City, the staff, the (City) Council have never really been interested in condemning property for projects,” Rollins said. “It’s one thing if it’s a water line that there’s no other place it can go, and it has to go in a particular place for the better good of the public. That’s one thing. But I would not be real happy to see a trail pop up right in my back yard, and right next to my house, when you see it’s the only place it can go.”

Rollins indicated that Mebane’s planning staff has been thinking that it makes some sense to not give up on the North-South piece, but to not make it a priority at this time.

City Planning Director Cy Stober mentioned that functionally, serving the goals of this Greenway, there is a temporary, interim solution, which would be to develop Giles Street as a bike boulevard running north to Holt Street.  

“I don’t think that could happen now, but through signage and striping, realizing the Greenway going north to south up to Holt Street as an interim measure to provide that functional connection would accomplish the goals of the Greenway, and serve those residents. In some ways perhaps even better,” Stober explained. “To widen that road - I don’t believe its curbed and guttered - would be a whole other conversation.  As an interim step, it could be a way for cyclists, especially kids, to get to the MACC from the school, and down to the Greenway.” 

While the North-South track running from the MACC to Holt Street has run into numerous logistical concerns, the East-West track is moving along much more smoothly. The East-West path begins at Third Street to the east, passes to the immediate north of South Mebane Elementary School to connect Third Street to the MACC, and then ties up into Mebane’s West End community with a connection at the intersection of Giles and Roosevelt Streets. 

“East to West, we’re mainly dealing with the school and two other property owners. I have recently spoken to two of them and had a much different experience than my first couple calls,” Rollins said of the progress on the East-West track. “We don’t have everything solved, but it sounds like that’s going to come together - to be able to get the project built from Corrigidor across the creek, and then over to South Third Street.” 

Rollins told the Bike and Pedestrian Committee that the East-West track could begin in late fall or early winter once all of the easements are signed, but that the North-South track could easily stretch into the spring or summer of 2021, if not even longer. 

“I feel like if we wait until everything is worked out, or not worked out, on the North-South side, then we’re going to be into a six to eight month delay very easily. Just to start getting everything appraised, and then to talk to property owners. And I don’t think even then it’s going to go well, just to be perfectly honest,” Rollins explained. “I don’t want to give up on the North-South, but I think it makes sense at this time to slow down on that acquisition. It may be that once we get the East-West side in, people see it, people see that it’s actually a good thing, it doesn’t cause a lot of problems, it may help us work out the North-South side.” 

“And it may be that by then, we figure out something to still get it moved. It’s not feeling like it’s going to come together on the North-South side in two months, or four months. I think we’re heading into the six months, eight months, a year (time frame). And then I think we’re still going to be back where we were. Are we willing to condemn property to put it in? And I don’t feel good about making that recommendation at this time.” 

Bike and Pedestrian Committee member Chelsea Morrison inquired about the possibility of figuring out a way to utilize existing streets and/or sidewalks to make the necessary connections without affecting local properties.

“If there’s a path that leads to downtown, maybe that would still be a success,” Morrison said. 

“We’ve had that discussion. Giles (Street) has a sidewalk. So if we did this East-West section all along there, - the trail is designed to tie in right there at Giles and Roosevelt. There is a pathway all the way through this community all the way up to Holt Street,” said Rollins in response to Morrison’s inquiry. “It takes you all the way up to Holt, and provides a way. There actually is a pathway all the way through this community up through West Holt Street.”

City Council member Patty Philipps, who voted along with fellow Council members Sean Ewing and Jill Auditori to approve borrowing money to continue construction on the project, expressed her desire to move ahead with the East-West portion, even if the North-South portion gets delayed well into 2021. 

“One of my primary considerations in pushing for this Holt Street connector was making sure that the West End community was connected to the facilities in the City of Mebane - particularly the MACC,” Philipps said. “I don’t want to have to delay the east-west portion of this, which will have a great connection at the corner of Roosevelt and Giles Streets, down to Corrigidor and on past the school to Third Street. I really don’t think that delaying it in order to pursue these properties on the North-South branch is a good plan. I think that we need to move forward, and get the East-West part moving now. That’s just my opinion.” 

“I really don’t want the whole thing to get shut down because we have a couple of property owners that are not going to be agreeable. It may be, as in the past, we’ve found that if we take a little more time and find a way around those problems, but starting with what we can do now, I think is really important,” Philipps continued.

“We’re not just completely giving up. If we can get the East-West side put in, we still tie to West End, which was always, from the very beginning, one of our top priorities. It may be that we figure out a better way,” said Rollins in response to Philipps. “Once the Duke Power lines turned into transmission lines, with all these new rules and regulations, and we got the final wetlands (information) back - you start looking at that entire area through there, it’s just not a good place to be. To get down there, in a flood plane, and you start boardwalking that, that original (price figure) number that we weren’t happy with gets even higher.” 

Rollins mentioned that as far as the next phase of this project, the City is looking at extending the trail along Third Street to South Mebane Elementary School as the initial phase of the East-West connector to the MACC. 

“Then we would like to look at starting is there a way to connect from Third to Fifth Street?” Rollins said. “I’m very cautious of saying that there is, but it looks like it might be possible. We have not done any preliminary design on that at all. If we can pull together the easements that we need for the East-West (track), they have construction drawings and site permits.” 

“I think everything is on to take bids on the East-West once we get the easements finalized,” he added. “To be honest with you, even when those conversations are going well with property owners, it’s probably still two or three months out to get signatures on everything, get easements drawn up. The School Board may have to take action. I haven’t heard that for sure yet. But we’e still several months away. But hopefully by late fall or early winter, we’re in a position to start talking about taking bids. We were talking about getting a loan for part of this. So in reality, we can’t do that in the fall and winter. We have to wait for our audit to come back from the auditor. So February is more reality for that. If the easements go well, that’s probably a February-March start date.”

The Bike and Pedestrian Committee voted unanimously to approve a study to determine the feasibility of moving forward with the East-to-West track of the project with a connection from Third to Fifth Street. 

“I think it makes sense to pursue that study to see what’s feasible for the additional length running east,” Bike and Pedestrian Committed member Andy Lynch said. “Let’s just make the experience what we want it to be for the long haul. We want to build an experience that people are going to enjoy, from the surface to the way it flows, to the utility of the thing. We want to do this right.” 

“I think especially because this is the first leg, and we don’t expect it to be the last, we want it to be a good experience,” added fellow member Rebecca Brouwer, who seconded Lynch’s motion to conduct the study. “We want people to recognize the vision. and have it be something that people will welcome to perhaps grow. We want to make this really enjoyable for a lot of people in Mebane.”

“It will boil down to discussion with staff and Council about do we try to fund it with existing funds? Do we try to get a loan? We’ve been shocked at bidding prices before,” said Rollins. “The Community Park was a perfect example - it was many millions over anyone’s estimates. Hopefully it will be what we estimate it, and then we have to decide which way we want to go.”