The intersection at Fifth Street and Grand Avenue in Paonia is about to get a facelift.
Located between the elementary and high schools and between property owned by the Delta County School District and the local Subway, a lot of kids walk through the intersection on their way to and from school. With no pedestrian signs or designated crosswalks, it can be very confusing. The turning radius for school buses passing by Subway is also a little tight.
In a March 22 presentation to the Paonia board of trustees, Mayor Neal Schwieterman said that students could walk to the Fourth Street intersection and use the crosswalk, but the natural thing to do is cross at Fifth. Eliminating the one-way stretch that connects Grand Avenue to Fifth Street would eliminate a lot of the confusion, said Schwieterman.
In a 2015 opinion survey, parents identified the intersection as unsafe. The survey was connected to a Safe Routes to School grant, for which the town was the pass-through agent. SRTS aims to reverse the decline in the number of kids who regularly walk or bike to school. As a result, Delta County, which owns the right of way, is taking the lead on the reconfiguration project, with the town agreeing to make in-kind contributions.
In preparing a site plan for the county from the original town plat, Paonia surveyors Wilmore & Company discovered an overlap in property ownership. Rather than end at Fifth Street, the school district boundary lines arc across the street and encompass the intersection, the Subway parking lot and most of the Subway building, as well as a portion of the adjacent half-acre lot to the north, all owned by Joe and Tracy Mock.
As it stands, the district owns "seven-eighths of the Subway building," said Schwieterman.
While situations like this often end up being played out in the court system, "Cooler heads prevailed," said Schwieterman, "and the lines will be returned to where the owners believe they are."
After the discrepancy was found last year, the realignment project was halted. School district, county and town representatives met last fall, with everyone expressing a strong interest in working with each other and the property owners.
While they may never know how the error happened, said Schwieterman, "As long as we fix it, that's the main thing."
The project is fairly simple, said Schwieterman. Plans call for closing off the one-way section from Grand Avenue, widening of the intersection on Fifth Street, and creating 40-ft turning radiuses to accommodate school buses. The existing stop sign, propped up by three big tires, will be updated .
"Overall it's been handled okay," said Joe Mock. He called the simplification of the intersection "a good idea." The Mocks are also donating a small chunk of property located in the intersection to allow it all to happen.
The county also holds about 800 feet of prescriptive road easement on Fifth Street from Grand Avenue heading east. If the town agrees to it, once all of the work and boundary adjustments are complete, the county will deed the easement to the town. Schwieterman said the county engineer estimates the town will receive about $500-$600 year in additional state tax revenues.
The solution isn't a perfect one, said Schwieterman. The right of way between a rock wall that stretches some 180-200 feet on district property along Fifth Street doesn't have a minimum 40 feet of right of way needed to allow for sidewalks. The rock wall belongs to the district and has possible historical significance, so it will remain, said Schwieterman. Students walking that section often walk inside the wall or on top of it, he said, generally accessing a large parking lot through an opening in the wall next to the one-way section.
At a meeting of all of the parties in March the Mocks expressed concerned about student safety. Joe Mock said they want to see a sidewalk built on the district parking lot side of the wall where students can walk. He is concerned because his daughter was hit on that section of street by a car. "I think it makes sense," said Mock.
If the sidewalk were built outside of the wall, it would cut into the Subway parking area, which has existed a good 40 years, said Mock.
Closing the one-way section will also create a small triangle of open space. The North Fork Creative Coalition is interested in using the space this year for a project that "delineates the entrance to the town as being part of the Creative District," said Schwieterman. While the town is interested in the project, the final decision is up to the school district.