When Duluth City Councilman Kelly Kelkenberg offered to donate $200 to buy new blooming shrubs to landscape Charles DiSpain’s yard and challenged other council members and the audience to match his amount at Monday (April 23) night’s work session, he was serious.
No one responded, but the offer still stands, Kelkenberg said Tuesday. And it extends to the community.
Forty-five large red and white azaleas that bloomed every spring along McClure Bridge Road on either side of 79-year-old DiSpain’s and his wife Sue’s home were taken out for road improvements and sidewalk installation related to construction of the new roundabout linking West Lawrenceville Street, McClure Bridge Road and Irvindale Road.
Kelkenberg has since opened an account at Woody's Nursery in Duluth titled "Community Betterment Fund" to collect monetary donations to replant the shrubs in the DiSpain yard. Donate in person or call 770-476-1705. Donations in any amount will be accepted.
DiSpain appeared at the council’s April 9 regular meeting requesting the city replant the azaleas or something else in their place.
His neighbors and other residents have lamented the loss of the azalea display mostly in comments posted on Duluth Patch.
Since his council appearance, DiSpain has suggested that knockout roses, which would be less expensive and bloom longer, be planted instead of azaleas, Kelkenberg said. The entrance to the subdivision where Kelkenberg lives is across from the DiSpain home, and Kelkenberg said he had admired the azaleas.
A knockout rose bush costs about $19.50, according to DiSpain.
Kelkenberg had previously donated $175 to the city for a community betterment project. It had not been completed, he said, so the city had returned his check. He added $25 to that amount to raise it to $200. Maybe volunteers would be willing to plant the roses, he said.
There was no landscaping budget for the McClure Bridge Road project, which was designed to improve the roadway, install sidewalks and add drainage, Duluth Planning Director Glenn Coyne told the council during the work session.
Of 16 parcels involved in the roundabout and 21 in the McClure Bridge projects, representing a total of 37 parcels, only three property owners requested landscaping as part of negotiations for right-of-way and easements, Coyne reported.
The city contracted with the firm of Terrell Hundley and Carroll in January 2011 to handle the negotiations, Coyne said. The city attorney finalized negotiations for the last two parcels after the project was bid.
DiSpain told Duluth Patch he had not requested landscaping during right-of-way negotiations because he wasn’t aware or informed that he could do so.
At an Aug. 4, 2011, meeting to provide information to residents impacted by the projects, attendees were told there was not a landscaping budget, Coyne said, but that after completion, there might be selected areas where trees could be replaced where needed, depending on available budget.
Individual homeowners were not promised landscaping at that meeting, Coyne said, and there are no funds in the current project budget to accommodate landscaping requests from individual homeowners.
In several cases, the city had design plans modified to save trees and landscaping. “We weren’t able to do it everywhere,” he said. Coyne suggested an alternative solution of doing a streetscape plan for the corridor since it is a major entrance to the city.
The issue was placed on the work session agenda so the city council could decide how to proceed because it could affect future transportation projects.
Councilwoman Marsha Bomar expressed concern that “this could open the door for other requests.”
“There was no landscaping budget,” said Councilman Jim Dugan. “We can’t constantly be going back. Going forth we may have to build in landscaping design” in transportation projects, he said.
Councilman Greg Whitlock said he was opposed to making changes after a project is completed because taxpayer money is involved.
Bomar proposed that the council wait until the work is completely done, the construction equipment is gone, and debris removed before contemplating doing anything. “We wouldn’t do any planting until the fall anyway,” she said. “It will look different when completed," she said. “We would serve ourselves and the citizens well to let that play out.”