The residents of a small, landlocked subdivision in southwest Great Bend have a problem. Their streets don’t exist.
Well, the streets exist. There are roadbeds, sand and ditches, but they have never been legally opened. This means they cannot be legally maintained, County Administrator and Counselor Richard Boeckman said to a packed commission chambers.
The folks live in Villa South, a cluster of homes north of Second Street and west of McKinley Street, across from the City of Great Bend’s new Sports Complex. That facility falls within the city limits, however Villa South does not.
So, for decades, maintenance personnel with from the Great Bend Township have graded, plowed snow and taken care of the sand streets. Concerns about this care brought some of the neighborhood’s residents to the Barton County Commission meeting Monday morning.
This is where they learned those township employees were technically trespassing because of the roads’ lack of legal standing. The streets all fall in the county.
“Legally, there are some serious issues,” Boeckman said. “The township has no legal obligation to do any work at all.”
At issue are easements. State statute requires that in order for a street to be opened, it must include a 60-foot easement, but doesn’t specify how wide the street has to be or what path the street takes through that 60-foot right-of-way.
There is a block or two of Coolidge, Taft, Truman and Third streets, as well as Second in the area. Boeckman said the solution for all but Second is simple.
The stretches of Coolidge, Taft, Truman and Third in Villa South all have easements of 60-80 feet. Residents can petition to have them opened or, even simpler, the commission can just move to open them.
But, “Second Street is a mess,” Boeckman said. It has only a 50-foot easement.
Here’s where it gets sticky. If one goes more than two feet south of Second they are in the Great Bend city limits. If they go anywhere to the north, they are in the lawns of those who live in Villa South.
“There are two options,” Boeckman said. First, the county could ask the city to cede a 10-foot strip along the south side of Second, however this would include a newly constructed sports complex fence.
There are concerns about whether the city would be willing to do this. There are liability and maintenance issues.
Second, the county could use its two feet on the south side of the street approach the residents to see if they are willing to allow an eight-foot easement to extend into their properties. The county could also condemn the property and take it.
Most of the residents present said they were willing to go along, as long as any resolution prohibited the county from claiming the land and making any alterations to it.
Boeckman stressed that any action would call for “maintenance of the existing road only,” which would preclude any other action. “This is an easement on paper only,” he said, adding it would be in place just to satisfy the letter of the law.
The the city agree to the first option, this would also mean the city’s fence could remain intact.
However, Boeckman said he has e-mailed Great Bend City Administrator Howard Partington twice about the matter and gotten no response.
Commissioner Don Cates said the county has a little leverage over the city. But, “we want to do this in the spirit of cooperation without being confrontational.”
The county could close the stretch of Second Street, restricting access to a city owned maintenance building and parking lot. “I can’t think of why they wouldn’t want to do this,” Cates said.
“I think this problem can be fixed,” Boeckman said.
Partington had been out of the office a few days last week and was just getting around to reading Boeckman’s e-mails. He said Monday afternoon city and county engineers have discussed the dilemma
If the county comes to the city with a proposed agreement “the council would certainly take a look at it,” Partington said.
Opening the streets that it can open will be on the commission’s Aug. 20 agenda.