Spearfish to consider how to handle surprise ‘gift’ of portion of Christensen Dr. from county

While the Lawrence County Commission recently voted to “gift” a portion of Christensen Drive, from Colorado Boulevard to Jeffries Ranch Road, to the city of Spearfish, the city’s understanding is that both parties must agree to the transfer. The city would next discuss its options related to the road at its Public Works Committee meeting July 30. Pioneer photo by Kaija Swisher

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SPEARFISH — Though it wasn’t on the city of Spearfish’s wish list, the recent move by the Lawrence County Commission to “gift” a portion of Christensen Drive to the city has prompted discussion on how to handle the proposed transfer.

Mayor Dana Boke explained during the discussion items on Monday’s city council meeting that the county held a public hearing July 9 on a resolution modifying the county road system to transfer an approximately 1-mile portion of Christensen Drive, from Colorado Boulevard to Jeffries Ranch Road, to the city. About half of the portion of roadway from Colorado Boulevard is paved, and it then becomes gravel.

“We were not informed that they were doing that,” she said, describing that she spoke at the public hearing and let them know that the city council had not discussed the topic and that the city considered Christensen Drive a major arterial road for the county. “Their stance is if there is going to be development on that road, they want us to take it over and make all decisions on access points, and so that’s kind of where it sits.”

Boke said that staff has discussed the issue internally since the county passed its resolution.

“What I would like to do it put it on the Public Works (Committee) agenda to review the resolution that we had passed, review Christensen Drive, to review some other areas, and bring something to the council.”

Council President Dan Hodgs said he thought that was “a great plan.”

“It just gives us a couple weeks to get our information together again and review what they want to do,” Boke said, asking if staff had anything to add.

City Administrator Mike Harmon said that the only thing he would add, “to provide a level of comfort to the council,” in that the staff’s understanding from the state Department of Transportation, the county cannot unilaterally give a road to the city, that that must be a joint decision.

“That is the DOT’s preferred approach, and it’s our understanding that it’s still their approach to transferring road jurisdiction,” he said.

“So it does take both parties,” Boke said, adding that Christensen Drive’s road surface is 20 years old at this point in time, “so it’s not in tip-top shape,” she said.

The next Public Works Committee meeting is at 4:15 p.m. Tuesday, July 30 in Spearfish City Hall.

The Lawrence County Commission first discussed the transfer of a portion of Christensen Drive June 25, following the presentation of a proposed voluntary annexation and rezoning of approximately 293 acres of property south of East Colorado Boulevard and west of Christensen Drive, with approximately 400 homes planned. 

Though a formal application has not been filed, the applicant, Miller Ranch LLC, has sought feedback from the city of Spearfish regarding the proposed land use and been directed to seek approvals from Lawrence County and the South Dakota Department of Transportation prior to filing a formal application with the city. 

Until any change in road jurisdiction is finalized, the county has the authority to grant access permission to and from Christensen Drive, with the state DOT providing access approval for Colorado Boulevard, so city staff explained that the review of the project would follow a modified process, with the planning commission and city council providing preliminary input and recommendation before the applicant submits access approvals to the county and state, followed by an application to the city. 

During the Lawrence County Commission’s meeting and public hearing July 9, a packet providing the rationale for transferring the portion of Christensen Drive to Spearfish included the following points: For at least 20 years, the city has been involved in the planning, design, and maintenance of the roadway; the city has planned, designed, installed, and currently maintains certain improvements such as municipal water lines, sewer lines, sewer stubs, utility access, pavement and guard-rail within the right-of-way; the city hasn’t sought or been granted permission by the county to install and/or maintain the above-referenced improvements within the right-of-way; the city imposed a special assessment/front-foot assessment upon city residents owning property along Christensen Drive; in 2000, the city passed a resolution levying assessments for the Christensen Drive Improvement Project; and the city has annexed areas along both sides of the road.

The rationale also states that state law provides that the Department of Transportation may, at its discretion, extend the state trunk highway system to include any street or streets within the limits of any first- or second-class municipality if necessary to make a continuous route for any state trunk highway through the municipality. But there is no similar statute authorizing a county to extend its highway system through a municipality.

Over the years, the city and county have had ongoing discussions regarding transfer of this portion roadway, with no agreement resulting from the discussions.

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