Working to clear a path in Eagle

The city plans to improve and reopen an area for bicyclists that has been blocked by residents and suffered from neglect

kmoeller@idahostatesman.comJune 7, 2013 

After work Wednesday, friends Toni Finlay and Terri LaCoy hopped on their bikes and hit the Greenbelt in Garden City.

They pedaled west from Glenwood Street along the south Boise River path, hoping to get in at least a 10-mile ride. But four miles in, they hit a dead end: a locked gate with a "no trespass" sign as the path heads toward Eagle Road.

Disappointed, they turned back.

"It's the Greenbelt, it should connect Eagle to Lucky Peak," said Finlay, who lives in Meridian and works as a systems analyst at Icon Credit Union.

Though blocked in at least two spots, the path does go through to Eagle Road. It's gravel and dirt east of the gate at the Laguna Pointe subdivision, and it narrows significantly near Eagle Road because of weeds and general lack of maintenance.

But it became impassable only in the past few months.

In addition to the locked gate - which people can bypass by veering closer to the river on a trail through thick brush - there are other impediments, including a collapsed wooden bridge. Trees that have fallen, or been dragged across the path, also impede users.

The city of Eagle has been in talks with the Laguna Pointe Homeowners Association since last year, hoping to resolve disagreements over Greenbelt easements and uses, including bicycling. They met Wednesday.

Getting the public path open to bicyclists and others this summer is a top priority, Eagle City Councilwoman Mary Defayette said.

Widening and maintenance will begin soon, she said, and signs marking public and private areas will be added. The city will install a new bridge in a different location on public property, Defayette said.

She said Laguna Pointe HOA leaders said residents wanted the path to be exclusively for walkers. "I said, 'I'm going to tell you right now: We are never going to ban bicycles on the Greenbelt.' "

The Eagle council made a public statement last year against banning bicycles on the Greenbelt as Garden City's Riverside Village fought to preserve its nature path for foot traffic only. "There's no way we're going to turn around and ban bicycles within our Greenbelt," Defayette said.

One of the Laguna Pointe residents nearest to the path declined to comment. She referred a reporter to the homeowners association, but a spokesman for the HOA contacted through city officials also declined to comment.

A letter Tuesday from Eagle's city attorney, Susan Buxton, to the attorney for Laguna Pointe HOA, Richard Andrus, references previous letters from Andrus that had "significant litigious threats."

"City leaders want to try to work this out without engaging in a bunch of lawyering - that is what has been happening," Buxton wrote in the letter, obtained by the Statesman through a public-records request.

OPPOSITION TO PAVING, BICYCLISTS

The gravel path near Laguna Pointe is the tail end of a roughly 5-mile section of southside Greenbelt between Glenwood Street and Eagle Road. Progress on improving the path for pedestrians and cyclists was heralded in May last year, when paving on the section closest to Garden City was finished.

But some Laguna Pointe residents weren't cheering. They didn't want to see the last mile of the path paved and they didn't want bicycles on the path between the river and the subdivision, Eagle city officials said this week.

That was a surprise to the all-volunteer group that spent a decade working to get a large section of the path paved.

"Not until (the paving) reached the eastern edge of the subdivision last year did we realize that there was a problem with the folks who lived there," said Judy Peavey-Derr, president of Foundation for Ada-Canyon Trails System.

Eagle officials say the gate at Laguna Pointe is on private property - and the owner has the right to keep it locked - but the city will fix and maintain the public path to the north.

Because the area is subject to flooding, Eagle has no plans to pave that section, Defayette said.

Eagle officials say they do not know who built the wooden bridge near the subdivision.

"The city did not put a bridge there," Planning and Zoning Administrator Bill Vaughn said.

GREENBELT DEJA VU?

For some, this feels like a repeat of the battle over bicycles on the Garden City Greenbelt just a few miles upstream.

The pro-bicycling Citizens for an Open Greenbelt went to court and the ballot box, hoping to force Garden City to lift its ban on bicycles on the nature path.

The path runs for 1.5 miles along the north side of the river near the Riverside Village subdivision. It's too narrow and unsafe for both cyclists and pedestrians, the mayor, councilors and area residents said.

COG's lawsuit failed, and in November Garden City voters rejected lifting the ban on bicycles.

COG founder Gary Segers hasn't given up advocating for cyclists on the Greenbelt. He emailed fellow cyclists this week, alerting them to another possible "bike ban fiasco" in Eagle.

POORLY MAINTAINED

Laguna Pointe is a 49-lot subdivision approved in 2006. All lots are sold but not all have homes, Defayette said.

The development agreement called for the developer to build a 10-foot-wide path of compacted, crushed cinder inside a 25-foot-wide easement between the river and the development. Where the path is not planned within the easement, the agreement says, "additional easement shall be provided as necessary."

The agreement also calls for the developer to provide parking for path users.

The subdivision developer did put in a path, said Eagle's new parks director, Mike Aho. But it hasn't been maintained by the city.

Defayette said path maintenance became a low priority during the recession, when budget and staff were cut by 40 percent. But the city is refocusing on parks and pathways, she said.

Aho was hired away from Spokane last fall to run the city's newly created parks department, and the council allocated $100,000 in its 2012-13 budget for improving the Greenbelt system. That compares with $4,000 the year before.

A path is planned in the nearby Lakemoor subdivision that will provide access to the southside Greenbelt, said Councilman Jason Pierce. He estimated that 95 percent of Greenbelt users will choose to use the safer, more convenient Lakemoor path.

"We want the path to lead to places, not just dump you out on a state highway," Pierce said.

Eagle's path isn't just a concern to residents there. Greenbelt users love the recreation and connectivity it provides between communities.

Eric Nafziger, who lives on Warm Springs in East Boise, rode to Laguna Pointe on Wednesday and turned back at the locked gate. He rides the Greenbelt with his wife three to four times a week, and he was pleased and surprised to find the newly paved extension in western Ada County.

"This has been a big plus," Nafziger said.

Katy Moeller: 377-6413

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