After years of not knowing what to do about a troubled private road, Orange City’s leaders have committed to spend almost $1 million to repair and upgrade it with the understanding it will become a public road.
“It will be a city road,” City Attorney William Reischmann said.
To make certain the south segment of Kentucky Avenue does not deteriorate again, the City Council is moving to establish a special-assessment district to pay for the repairs and future maintenance. The special-assessment district will include properties whose owners will pay yearly charges for the improvements and maintenance. Those charges, or annual assessments, will appear on the property-tax bills.
“We’ve kicked the can down the road for a long time,” Mayor Gary Blair said, as the council agreed March 30 to fix South Kentucky Avenue.
South Kentucky Avenue is a part of 290 acres annexed into Orange City more than 30 years ago, but the company that had intended to develop the property went out of business. The road, extending southward from East Graves Avenue, was well traveled but ignored. Its disrepair resulted in safety hazards, such as big holes, as more people began using it to leave and return to their homes in the area.
“Maintenance has been nonexistent since 1989,” City Manager Dale Arrington said, as she recounted the history of South Kentucky Avenue and the decades of neglect.
“The roadway is well-aged,” Gregory Stephens, an engineer and contract manager for Maser Consulting, P.A., said. “There’s definite indication that it was constructed at different times. … We saw different materials.”
Orange City hired Maser Consulting, of Red Bank, New Jersey, and Bryant Miller Olive, a Tallahassee law firm, to study the issues surrounding South Kentucky Avenue and recommend a solution. Maser’s role was to examine the roadway from an engineering and safety perspective, while Bryant Miller Olive considered the legal and financial angles of creating a special-assessment district. Orange City paid $53,882 to Maser Consulting and $28,885 to Bryant Miller Olive.
Though actually a private road, South Kentucky Avenue serves as a way into and out of the Sherwood Oaks and Oakhurst subdivisions, Country Village Mobile Home Park, the Orange City RV Park, and other properties. The road is also to be essential for a yet-to-be-developed 168-home neighborhood, known as Liberty Station.
Liberty Station is destined to be a major factor in fixing South Kentucky Avenue and caring for it in future years. As a condition for the city’s approval of its project, the developer must improve the northern segment of the road, including its intersection with Graves Avenue.
The maintenance of South Kentucky Avenue, which is about 7/10 of a mile long, was supposed to be the responsibility of the Diland Corp. That firm was dissolved in 2009, Arrington noted.
“It is not a major city thoroughfare and not a thoroughfare for the general public,” Christopher Roe, an attorney with Bryant Miller Olive, said.
After city officials received complaints about the dilapidated condition of parts of South Kentucky Avenue, the City Council in 2020 agreed to pay for repairs — such as filling deep holes in the pavement. That stopgap effort cost $48,831, but Arrington and the council began seeking a permanent solution.
The consultants presented to the council three proposals:
— Option 1, which would involve milling and resurfacing the road, as well as improving drainage, at a cost of approximately $650,000
— Option 2, which would include the milling, resurfacing and improved drainage, plus the addition of curbs along parts of the road, at a cost of about $900,000
— Option 3, which would also include more curbing, a sidewalk and lighting, along with the basic roadway upgrades, at an estimated cost of $1.85 million
“All these bells and whistles that we want to add on, they [affected property owners] are going to be paying for it,” Blair advised his colleagues.
Option 3, officials and consultants cautioned, may actually be more expensive, if the city must later acquire right of way for a sidewalk or other improvements. Under the law, a government using eminent domain, meaning the taking of private property for a public use — such as a sidewalk— must pay all of the costs imposed by the courts.
After weighing the choices, the City Council settled on Option 2.
The cost of upgrading and maintaining South Kentucky Avenue will be apportioned among the owners of properties along the road and parcels in the immediate area, whose residents will likely use the road.
The consultants recommended the assessments be based on the estimated numbers of trips out of and into the properties inside the district. The possible assessments presented range between $68 for a mobile-home lot and $188 for a single-family home. The figures are estimates that could change, depending on the actual cost of fixing South Kentucky Avenue, the amount of the loan the city must repay, the interest rate and the term of the loan.
Because mobile homes are considered vehicles under state law, the owners of the mobile-home parks will be paying the assessments on their properties and may then increase the rent they charge to recoup what they must pay.
If the City Council adopts the resolutions necessary to create the special-assessment district for South Kentucky Avenue, the new annual charges may show up on property-tax bills in November. The council may begin soliciting bids for the actual construction in December, and the improvement may start as early as February 2022, according to city officials.