Thomson Township residents push back on proposed private driveway ordinance

After an hour of comments and discussion with over 40 residents, Board Chair Ruth Janke said the township will take the ordinance back to the drawing board.

David Pritchett, Thomson Township's attorney, explains the difference in density on plat maps from the 1970s to present day during a public hearing on private and shared driveway ordinances, Thursday, Jan. 26.
Dylan Sherman / Cloquet Pine Journal

ESKO — Residents in Thomson Township voiced their concerns about proposed private driveway and shared driveway ordinances during a public hearing Thursday, Jan. 26.

The two separate ordinances were discussed during the hearing; however as they are similar in nature, a majority of the focus centered on the private driveway ordinance.

Both measures would require those who live on private driveways or shared driveways to create road maintenance agreements and follow criteria set up by the ordinance.

Those in attendance were concerned that the ordinance was a way for the township to exert more control over residents.

Township Attorney David Pritchett said the idea was to increase safety and access for fire, police and utilities on roads.


There was a point of confusion during the meeting as some residents shared that they had received a postcard urging them to attend the public hearing and that the ordinance would be voted on after the hearing. Township officials said the postcard was not from the township and the board was not voting on the ordinance during the meeting.

The need for an ordinance

According to the proposed measures, private roads and shared driveways in the township would be required to have road maintenance agreements. Pritchett explained that as the township has grown, the density of residents has increased as well.

He showed the difference using plat maps from the 1970s to present day, which showed the change from large farm properties to much smaller residential ones.

"As parcels get divided up, they need access to private roads," he said.

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The town board's goal is to address ordinances in a way that gives the township the most bang for its buck.

"We want to regulate as little as possible with as much effect as possible," Pritchett said. "The town board desires to let people live they way they have."

Pritchett said there are a lot of issues with private roads and private driveways in the township: sometimes there is no maintenance agreement and one resident at the end of the road maintains it. Should that person stop, Pritchett said there would be problems without an agreement in place.

Another reason for the maintenance agreements is to save real estate transactions that require agreements in place on private roads.


"Buyers can't get financing unless there is a shared maintenance agreement," he said.

Residents concerned

The 40 residents in attendance voiced multiple concerns about the ordinance ranging from the overall need for it to issues with specific wording.

When asked whether the purpose of the ordinance was for safety or future developments, board members gave mixed responses. Board Chair Ruth Janke said she viewed it as a safety ordinance, while Supervisor Tony Compo said he viewed it as an ordinance for both.

Some residents made comments about the fact that the township is not responsible for the residents' welfare and safety.

Compo said from a fire department standpoint it is not only one property they try to manage on calls, but also to ensure fires do not expand to others or start forest fires.

Travis Davidsavor, a resident and civil engineer, said the wording in the ordinance needed more clarity on if it would affect new or existing drives.

"I am not fully convinced there is an elevated risk to the public or rescuers that come to my house on a private drive than to someone who lives on a driveway," he said.

Davidsavor asked if there were road standards for private driveways, which Pritchett said there are not and the township will develop them after an ordinance is passed.


"I think it is important that the road standard be established before this ordinance can even be considered for adoption," Davidsavor said.

One of Davidsavor's biggest issues with the ordinance was that if those living on a private drive do not have an agreement in place, they would not be able to get a construction permit.

Pritchett said the language in the ordinance was drafted for new construction or a new use of the property.

The proposed ordinance states: "No building permit shall be issued for any structure unless said structure will be located on a parcel which meets the criteria of this Section 3."

The Section 3 criteria include having a written and recorded maintenance agreement affecting all users of the private road, that roads shall be constructed with an eye for future uses and development, shall be within a recorded easement of 66 feet, and shall have the road inspected at the owner's expense.

As a civil engineer, Davidsavor said he knows the price of having engineers and city staff go over and review roads, which he estimated on the low end would come to about $500 — a cost he does not think should be shifted onto the residents.

The ordinance also includes a bypass mechanism that says if an agreement can't be met, maintenance is required by the owner of the land the road crosses.

Davidsavor said there are some undefined terms in the bypass like "workmanlike fashion" and "neat" that can be inconsistently applied. Davidsavor clarified that he does believe maintenance agreements are good, but is not sure if it is in the township's best interest to have them.


Next steps

After the meeting, Janke said she appreciated the comments made from the residents, and the board will take the ordinance "back to the drawing board."

There will be another public hearing before the ordinance is voted on, Janke said, but as of now there is no timeline for when the next hearing will be.

Drafts of the two proposed ordinances can be found on the township's website.

Dylan covers the local governments of Cloquet and Carlton County, as well as the Esko and Wrenshall school boards for the Cloquet Pine Journal.
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