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Planner proposes changes to Lakewalk extension

Is a Lakewalk without a view of the lake still a Lakewalk? The City Council will consider a proposal at its agenda session Thursday to divert three blocks of the Lakewalk extension away from Lake Superior behind the Beacon Point condominiums and ...

Is a Lakewalk without a view of the lake still a Lakewalk?

The City Council will consider a proposal at its agenda session Thursday to divert three blocks of the Lakewalk extension away from Lake Superior behind the Beacon Point condominiums and other buildings on Water Street.

In a memo sent last week to the city administration, City Planner Bob Bruce laid out problems with a Lakewalk plan approved in June by the City Council. One problem, he said, was that a footpath along the lake near the condominiums couldn't meet up with an existing section of Lakewalk at 23rd Avenue East. Bruce said a small portion of privately owned land prevents the connection.

Bruce proposed instead routing a 10-foot-wide blacktop path -- the main route for bikes and rollerblades -- along Water Street between 20th and 23rd avenues east, with the three-story condominiums and other buildings blocking the lake view.

The council-approved plan also called for a section of land from 23rd to about 25th Avenue East along the lake to be made into a 10-foot-wide blacktop path for bikes and rollerblades. However, in his memo, Bruce said that wouldn't be feasible because of the grade of the land and an increase in bike and car traffic having to cross a small stretch of 23rd Avenue East.

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Bruce recommended surfacing the 10-foot-wide path along the shore between 23rd and 25th avenues east with gravel rather than blacktop. Bikers and rollerbladers would continue on blacktop behind Water Street, where a view of the lake would be obstructed by homes until about 24th Avenue East.

The debate over the Lakewalk extension died down last June after the City Council supported a Lakewalk extension along the lake by Beacon Point. That plan came at a cost of $1.6 million to $2.1 million.

Despite having three blocks of the walk obstructed by buildings, Bruce said Tuesday that his revision "is not a major departure."

"The only real difference now is that we're recommending the path on the lakefront [between 23rd and 25th avenues east] be gravel instead of blacktop," he said.

Bruce said the new recommendation might end up costing the city less than the council-approved plan, but didn't have an estimate of the actual cost.

"The whole idea is to focus on what we can do now, and not spend any money that isn't recoverable in the future," he said.

Many Lakewalk extension proponents have wanted to the path to travel completely along the shore and have been upset with the condominium's development blocking that plan. One critic of the Beacon Point development, Alison Clarke, Neighborhood Planning District 7 chairwoman, said in general she agrees with Bruce's changes, but hopes in the future that a shoreline footpath can be developed from 20th to 23rd avenues east. That would require the city to purchase private land.

"We have always held as our objective a standard 10-foot-wide asphalt surface along the shore, [from] 20th to approximately 25th [avenues]," she said.

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Until the land can be acquired, "we will compromise to accept a gravel surface on the Lakewalk as proposed between 23rd and 25th," Clarke said.

Changing the Lakewalk extension plan would take a vote of the City Council, but at least one councilor said he has reservations. Council President Roger Reinert said he would oppose a Lakewalk extension that would take away complete public access to the lake.

Though a complete footpath isn't feasible now, Reinert worried that giving up on it would mean the city might not have access to it in the future. He recommended extending the footpath up to the private properties and seeking an easement from the property owners.

Reinert said the city gave up rights to street easements so Beacon Point developers could get the land they needed.

"The city gave something for the Beacon Point project, and in turn what the public was getting back was public access to the shoreline," he said. "We don't want to give that up."

Bruce said the public's access to the shoreline wouldn't go away, but a footpath going all the way from 20th to 23rd avenues east won't be possible until the city can acquire the private property. Bruce said the city hasn't contacted property owners.

"We don't have any money," he said. "So what are we going to say?"

Bruce said the two homes closest to the lake are unoccupied, so there is some hope that the owners will sell the homes or give the city an easement to the land. Otherwise, he said the city would have to condemn the properties or buy them.

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But Bruce said neither option is being considered, and instead he's trying to focus on what can be done about the Lakewalk extension now.

Tuesday is the earliest the City Council would vote on Bruce's proposal.

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