LEEDS – Discussion about a possible four-way highway interchange on the north-end of Leeds invited a full-house turnout at the Leeds Town Hall meeting on Thursday morning.
Leeds residents filled every seat and stood along walls or crowded in open doorways as the town council met with representatives of the Eastern Washington County Rural Planning Organization and Grapevine Wash developers.
On the Leeds town website, the April 19 meeting was referred to as a “UDOT Working Meeting.” On the agenda the primary order of business was: “Discussion regarding UDOT. Main Street and Right of Ways.”
At a glance, the statement may remind St. George residents of the debate surrounding the proposal to expand Bluff Street and the potential need for UDOT to acquire certain properties. However, unlike the Bluff Street Expansion proposals which have been sent to the Federal Highways Administration for final approval, the Town of Leeds and UDOT are in the preliminary stages of discussion.
Yet, why are Leeds and UDOT talking about a north-end interchange? And what does it have to do with Main Street?
The answer involves the Grapevine Wash, an area north of Leeds that was annexed into the town limits in 2010. It is a 300-acre parcel of land that, if all goes according to the plans of the property owners, will be developed into a subdivision that will support 2,400 households.
Drake Howell, the property manager for Grapevine Wash, told questioning residents that emergency responders require multiple access points into a subdivision. A highway interchange near the northern edge of Leeds would help accomplish this, as well as other roads proposed for the area. He said better connectivity to the development with Leeds-proper would also have economic benefits.
“More access will add value to the property,” Howell said.
Howell said Leeds currently has a “split interchange,” which meant there was only one-way access to northbound I-15 at the northern end of town, while access to southbound I-15 was at the southern end. Individuals who live in the north end of Leeds must drive a mile through the town on Main Street to get to the southbound exit.
The Grapevine Wash – especially if it brings the projected 2,400 households to the area – will generate significant traffic, Howell said.
Town councilor Joe Allen said as many as 6,000 people could live in Grapevine Wash once it is built. That amount would increase traffic on Main Street from 1,700 cars-a-day to 17,000 cars-a-day.
In order to support higher traffic volume, Allen said “something’s got to change.”
Leeds cannot grow, Allen said, unless something was done to update the roads and general infrastructure.
As for a four-way interchange, he said “[Leeds] is very much in favor of a north interchange.”
Still, not everyone likes the idea of Leeds growing, or having their money going towards projects that promote said growth.
“Three prior developments tried to get [into Leeds], and all went belly-up,” said Elliot Sheltman, the president of the Leeds Domestic Waterusers Association.
Sheltman said some people may not think growth is in the best interest on the town. As well, who was going to pay for the infrastructure upgrades just so the Grapevine Wash development could be feasible?
“Why pay for something that will benefit someone else?” he said.
Allen said proposed upgrades to roadways would be paid for by impact fees. Current residents wouldn’t pay a dime.
A lot of work still needs to be done before actual building at Grapevine Wash can take place, however. Access to the property needs to be approved and finalized. Portions of those proposed roads cut across private and public lands.
“We hope to go to the property owners and BLM to get access,” Howell said.
Everything is still in the planning stages, he added, and said Grapevine Wash would remain “desert land” until such matters as infrastructure, road access, and a sundry of related items were addressed and cleared.
For now, the debate over Leed’ss potential growth and whether or not a northern interchange is feasible will continue. The next Town Council meeting is April 25, and the next Planning Commission meeting is May 2.
Additional information can be found at the Leeds website.
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Copyright 2012 St. George News.