Metropolitan Community College is resisting the City of Omaha's demand that it put in and pay for a new street as part of a proposed expansion of the school's Elkhorn Valley campus.
Plans for a new arts building are on hold until college and city officials resolve the matter, Metro officials said.
The street would be a quarter-mile long and connect the campus entrance to a commercial building site that one day could house stores and restaurants.
Metro officials don't want the street, which they say would cause safety and traffic problems and is unrelated to the expansion plans. The college also doesn't want to pay for the project, which Metro officials say could cost them as much as $1.7 million.
Jim Lang, an attorney for the developer of the adjacent commercial property, Gottsch Land Co., said his client has offered to pay for the road, but so far, Metro has declined.
The city, for its part, maintains that the connecting street would ease traffic flow and make it easier to get access to the campus and businesses. The street would be another way to exit the college if construction or a vehicle accident closed 204th Street, said Planning Director Rick Cunningham.
Currently, Cumberland Drive is the only way to reach the campus, from 204th Street.
“Metro is going to have more people going in and out of there as they expand their campus,” Cunningham said. “We don't have a lot of areas that stand alone, with one entrance in and one entrance out.”
Lang said the city should build the connecting street to help ensure traffic flows smoothly once the development is complete over the next few years.
Lang said a one-way-in, one-way-out driveway at the Elkhorn campus doesn't work with current traffic and development around the site.
“There's a lot of really good reasons to have that connection,” Lang said. “Our site could include coffee shops and bookstores, or shops that can be integrated with the college. It can be done nicely.”
The college's $23 million arts building is the first phase in a five-building expansion at the Elkhorn campus, which serves students from Douglas, Sarpy, Dodge and Washington Counties. Private donations, a loan and Metro revenues will finance construction.
Metro President Randy Schmailzl said the fight with the city has delayed construction.
“We had hoped that by fall 2013 we'd be in the building,” he said. “We'll be two years out from now, if we started today.”
The city and the college have been at odds several times since Omaha annexed Elkhorn in 2007.
Omaha tried to take Cumberland Drive in 2008 through eminent domain, but the Nebraska Supreme Court ruled the city couldn't seize college property used for public purposes.
Metro officials said they hope city planners drop the street proposal.
Although the arts building project went before the planning board, the college can legally move forward without the board's approval, Schmailzl said.
Omaha Mayor Jim Suttle said: “Somewhere in all this discussion is an answer. We just have to keep working to find it.”
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