Tensions ran high at times during Thursday’s Hays City Commission meeting, as a few commissioners attempted a motion that effectively would have halted an already-approved proposal to restripe a section of Canterbury Drive from four lanes to three.
The commission in February signed off on a street maintenance program that included diamond grinding on Canterbury from 13th to 27th, then implementing a “lane diet” afterwards, converting the four driving lanes into two with a middle turning lane.
Citing an outpouring of opposition from residents regarding the change, a few commissioners brought the item forward for impromptu discussion Thursday. Because the item was not on the published agenda and had not been discussed at the most recent work session, four votes would have been needed to override the commission’s established approval for the changes.
When it became clear there were not enough votes to do that, Commissioner Shaun Musil made a motion seeking to suspend the four-vote requirement as allowed by city policy. That action could be decided by a simple majority of three votes.
“I think, in my opinion, the community would like us to keep it that way,” Musil said of the four-lane configuration when he made the motion to suspend commission policy.
Musil had expressed concerns with the lane reduction since it was initially discussed late last year. His motion was seconded by commissioner Sandy Jacobs, but the proposal to stray from established policy was met with resistance by others.
“I have to choose my words very carefully. You may be down a commissioner,” Vice-Mayor Henry Schwaller IV said. “There’s a reason we have this rule. No. 1, we don’t have city staff, we have no information to make a decision. Yet you’re appealing something that’s been in effect for many years, with a reason. The public is not here to comment whether they like it or dislike it. We have no information ahead of us except you’re going to vote on an item. And I do not think that’s a good precedent, and I do not wish to serve with a commission that makes decisions hastefully.”
“I don’t think it’s done in haste to be honest with you. I don’t like doing this this way,” Jacobs replied. “I’ll be very honest about this. I’ve had a number of calls in this last week, really more than I’ve had on any other subject, which is really surprising to me because we’ve had some really strong discussions previously.”
After a lengthy -- and at times heated -- discussion, that motion ultimately failed unanimously, with Musil also backing away from that particular method.
“I think our community wants us to talk about stuff like this,” Musil said. “One thing I’ve always bragged about -- I’ve served with seven different people up here now -- is we’ve always been respectful. We follow the rules. We all disagree, but we’ve been respectful about it. When you brought (changing Canterbury) up, I didn’t agree. I didn’t want to change it. That’s just my opinion. I think there’s people who go back and forth on that, but to do something that looks like we’re not transparent ... I don’t want to go down that road.”
The commission still has the option of calling a special meeting next week if they want to revisit the Canterbury issue. That request can be made in writing if it is endorsed by three commissioners and provides at least 48-hours notice prior to the desired meeting time. If no action is taken, the plan to reduce lanes from four to three will move forward.
The contractor had planned to make the changes in two weeks, and it’s possible that pushing back the scheduled project date would cost the city.
A section of 27th Street also is being diamond grinded to improve the road’s surface, but there are no plans to change that street’s current four-lane structure.
While Jacobs seconded Musil’s motion for discussion, she said she personally would be OK if Canterbury stayed the same or went to three lanes, but said she understands residents’ concerns.
“I think that there’s strong feelings about it within the community,” she said.
Commissioner Chris Dinkel also expressed opposition to the idea of changing city policy, and spoke in favor of sticking with the commission’s approved action on Canterbury Drive. The change was consistent with staff recommendations, and also has been implemented on other streets -- most recently, 13th and Hall. Dinkel said he believes the change to three lanes overall has improved traffic flow and made left turns easier.
“I think there’s definite value in restriping Canterbury to three lanes, which is why I think city staff recommended it in the first place,” Dinkel said. “I believe it would be unwise to reverse that decision based on a few calls. Because a number of people that I’ve talked to have been in substantial support of switching it to three lanes, but we don’t hear from them because we just hear the people who are screaming about the change. Second, I really do not think this is a matter that justifies suspending the rules.”
Schwaller also spoke in favor of going to three lanes, while the other three commissioners seemed inclined to revisit the commission’s previous decision.
“We’re not talking about building a waterline to Edwards County. We’re not talking about roundabouts on Vine. We’re making something out of nothing,” Schwaller said. “It is an important issue, and people are going to call and I’m not dismissing that. But we need to look at the Kansas Department of Transportation reports that told us when three lanes (are most effective).”
Mayor James Meier previously had expressed support for the lane reduction, citing specifically his frustration with the functionality of the stoplight at 22nd and Canterbury, which lacks a designated left turning lane.
He said his opinion on the lane restriping has changed, but also spoke firmly in support of the commission’s ability to use all of the procedures outlined in their policy.
“I respect the opinion that we shouldn’t change our minds just because people tell you they don’t want it. That’s definitely an argument I’ve used in the past. I’m not going to lie,” Meier said. “I think in this instance, I don’t really know that it’s broken, so I don’t know what we’re trying to fix here. As I reflect on it more, do I think that 22nd and Canterbury can improve? Sure. Or we can just keep it the same and no one was complaining about it to begin with. In this instance, I guess I disagree and I think people contacting us and saying leave it alone, don’t change it, is a reason to revisit it.”
For more from Thursday’s meeting, see Sunday’s edition or watch HDNews.net.