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Why one property juts out into widened Morgan Road
Morgan Road not wide here
This drone view looking north on Morgan Road shows how the property at 3807 Morgan Road has spoiled the city’s plans to fully widen the street to its full width at 110 feet. Widening is taking place in front of four ranchettes a block to the north. - photo by Jeff Benziger

After the city insisted that the owners of four ranchette properties would give up 30 feet of their frontage for the widening of Morgan Road, motorists are scratching their heads after seeing a sidewalk poured awkwardly into the street around one residential property that now juts into the road.

“It seems very strange that it’s wide all the way down Morgan Road and … the there’s a sidewalk going into the street,” said one Hackett Road resident who asked the Courier to look into the situation.

Samir “Sam” Royal, the city’s acting Public Works director, said the city doesn’t have the right-of-way to take the property despite attempts to buy it. Full widening of Morgan Road to 110 feet also would have placed the sidewalk through the front of the house. The new sidewalk is 26 feet from the front of the house.

The house was built in 1946 when Morgan Road was rural and later annexed to the city. The owner’s holding out meant design challenges for the city.

“It was a challenging part because we weren’t able to get the ultimate right-of-way, which is 110 feet, and that would give us really a nice alignment with our striping, with our roadways and with our curb and gutter,” said Royal. “Everything would line up perfectly. We had to go around the property.”

Royal said he remembers that then City Manager Toby Wells tried to get the owner of 3807 Morgan Road to sell but it didn’t work out.

“Eventually the property got sold and the city wasn’t aware of it,” said Royal. “We tried to negotiate with the property owner for the sale but that didn’t develop.”

The city extended the homeowner the courtesy of providing a connection for future water service if his well fails.

“Maybe in the future we might strike a deal where we can actually take his house and move it back and give us that right-of-way. So that’s something we thought about doing later on.”

Royal said the property now jutting out into the road shouldn’t present any issues for motorists given the signs and striping to shift traffic over.

A similar situation exists on Faith Home Road north of Whitmore Avenue where an existing house and yard were left to remain as the street was widened.

As an engineer, Royal cringes at the design.

“People are going to say, ‘Why did the city leave it like that?’ ”

Cities have the option of forcing an owner to sell property through eminent domain proceedings if needed for the public good but the Ceres City Council has long refrained from the controversial practice.

As for the four ranchette owners who lost part of their front yards, Royal said the city was deed that right-of-way back in 1995.

“We have deeds that show that. We just didn’t decide to go ahead and take their frontage. That frontage belonged to the city since 1995; but they were maintaining the properties.”

The Morgan Road widening became controversial when owners of four ranchette properties protested the loss of a large section of their front yards and bringing traffic closer to the front of their homes. In June the Ceres City Council awarded the bid to widen Morgan Road and add sidewalks along certain stretches to United Pavement as part of a $3.4 million “Safe Routes to School” project.

The project includes street improvements, pedestrian refuge islands, crosswalk improvements, curb ramp improvements, new sidewalks and street lighting, pavement overlay and striping on Morgan Road from Whitmore Avenue to Service Road. The work started in August and is partially being funded by an Active Transportation Plan – Safe Route to Schools Grant (SRTS) of approximately $674,000 given to the city in June 2017.

As the city was out surveying the project, the owners of ranchettes at 3307, 3413, 3507, and 3537 Morgan Road became upset about plans to widen the road and take 30 feet of their frontage. Those properties were determined by the city to be encroaching into the public right of way based on recorded maps and deeds. The owners proposed some design alternatives which were ultimately rejected by city engineers.

One of those protesting was ranchette owner Ray Smith, who raised objections in November to the project. He claimed that the affected property owners weren’t advised about the city’s plans to take their property for street widening.

Acting Public Works Director Sam Royal said if the city doesn’t complete the project by the end of the year the city “could possibly lose that grant.”

On June 13 the council voted 3-1 to proceed with the work and award the bid. Only Councilman James Casey voted no, questioning whether the ranchette owners were kept in the dark about the project from the outset. Two weeks later, Councilman Mike Kline attempted to have the council rescind the contract and revisit the project but didn’t have the votes.