Before a packed chamber, the Denison City Council moved forward with the proposed Katy Trail project during a meeting Monday when it voted unanimously to seek grants for the 2.64 miles of trail along the right-of-way of the old Missouri Kansas Texas Railroad.

City staff will now move forward with applying for a federal grant through the Transportation Alternatives Program to fund the project. If approved by the Texas Department of Transportation, the grant would provide 80 percent of the estimated $2.5 million budget.

In speaking in favor of the project, Denison Mayor Jared Johnson said it is this grant that allowed the city to consider this project. In looking to attract new residents to Denison, Johnson added that amenities such as walking paths are in high demand.

“One of Council’s goals is to attract and retain young professionals,” said City Manager Robert Hanna. “These are the amenities they are looking for.”

Prior to the vote, the Council held a public hearing for the project in which nearly two dozen residents, business owners and community members spoke on the issue. While residents spoke both for and against the project, the majority who spoke were in favor of the project.

Among those speaking in favor for the project was Karl Welzenbach, director of the Sherman-Denison Metropolitan Planning Organization. The trail, including a portion running through the city of Sherman, was a part of the MPO Bicycle and Pedestrian Plan.

“I am just here to express the support of the Metropolitan Planning Organization,” said Welzenbach. “This trail is in fact one of the backbones of the plan that was adopted by the MPO back in October. … It is a backbone connector between Sherman and Denison.”

Welzenbach said trails such as the Katy Trail tend to lead to economic development and increases in land value for areas surrounding them.

Speaking in favor of the project, Melanie Medina said through research on the topic she learned that similar trails have lead to property value increases of about 8 percent. Medina went on to add that future extensions of the route would go alongside development of senior care facilities along FM 691. The route would lead to Waterloo Park, giving seniors access to additional activities and recreation.

Medina also spoke in support of what she called a “medical mile” along the path, allowing the nearby hospital to help in the upkeep and maintenance of the path.

While many favored the project, some residents raised concerns about the project ranging from worries about maintenance and security to privacy issues and wildlife.

Speaking against the proposed path, Jeanie Beam said she has had previous issues with criminal activity along the path. In her time at her home, which is adjacent to the right-of-way, Beam said she has had her fence cut open and her door kicked in.

“My dog saved me and chased them back into the woods,” she said.

By building the path, Beam said she was worried it would attract criminals to the area. “I am afraid they will come during the day time, case it out, and return at night,” she said.

Johnson said that many of the concerns Beam raised have happened even without the trail in place. Johnson said he believes the extra activity in the area would police itself, driving away any criminal element.

“When you put a spotlight on an area, the criminal element will find other areas for their nefarious deeds,” said Marilyn Livingston, speaking in favor of the project.

Speaking for the police department Chief Jay Burch said outside of light vandalism in the restrooms, he has seen no increase in crimes near the trails that run through Waterloo Park.

Other concerns included worries that the city should have other priorities, including maintenance on city infrastructure. Keith Hartline said the city has been working to overcome an image issue, and should instead invest the money to fix issues such as potholes.

In speaking to the concern, Johnson noted that only $500,000 would be budgeted out of city funds, with the majority funded by grants. Johnson added that the city is planning to address the need for infrastructure updates, but hasn’t gotten to the point where it is ready to take action. While the trail would need regular maintenance, Johnson said preliminary estimates on the cost are within the city’s budget.

Johnson added that the project is still in the planning phase, and if the project is deemed not to be feasible for the city, the city can opt not to go through with the plans.

Addressing previous concerns brought up regarding the project, Assistant Public Works Director Kyle Hockersmith said staff is still looking at how best to handle intersections between busy roads and the path. Hockersmith said these would likely be addressed during the design phase of the project.

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