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Council eyes sidewalk policy

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At their Oct. 4 meeting, Village Council members will continue a discussion on long-range Village sidewalk policy, and consider whether current policy, which assesses property owners for sidewalk repair, should be revised.

“Something needs to happen,” Council member Karen Wintrow said last week, stating that Council should “provide more clarity and direction for citizens.”

Council’s current policy regarding sidewalks includes a nine-step process during which sidewalks needing repair are identified by the Village, the cost of repair is estimated, property owners are notified of the cost (and given the option of making the repairs themselves), and, if the repair is not made nor payment received in a stated time period, the repair cost is included in the homeowner’s property tax.

However, the process has proved so contentious in the past that sidewalk repairs have often simply not been made. The Yellow Springs Accessibility Committee has repeatedly urged past Councils to move ahead with repairs, especially along the eastern side of Xenia Avenue between downtown and the Friends Care Community, or FCC, a route traveled by wheelchair-bound FCC residents.

This Council, in an effort to promote walkability in the village, has moved ahead. The process began a year ago with Village staff identifying sidewalks on the eastern side of Xenia Avenue that need repair; however, unexpected illness of staff postponed the process. Recently Village Planner Ed Amrhein identified sidewalks that need repair at a recent Council meeting, and letters to property owners are going out this week, Amrhein said in an interview last week.

Properties in need of sidewalk repair in that area are those abutting downtown businesses, whose addresses include 225, 227, 233 and 263 Xenia Avenue. Residential sidewalks identified are those adjacent to properties on Xenia Avenue, including 321, 503, 509, 515, 611, 619, 717, 777, 801, 825, 833, 903, 911 and 917, as well as 106 Whiteman Street.

Sidewalks in need of repair are those with offsets between slabs of pavement of one-half inch or more, according to Amrhein, who walked the sidewalks with several wheelchair-bound FCC residents. At a recent meeting, Amrhein identified the amounts assessed to be “in the small hundreds of dollars,” with the highest amount being $1,600.

While moving ahead with assessing repairs on Xenia Avenue, Council members also requested that Village Manager Mark Cundiff survey other municipalities to determine standard municipal practice regarding sidewalks. In an Aug. 13 manager’s report, Cundiff reported results from 28 Ohio municipalities that showed a range of approaches.

Of those municipalities, 23 had sidewalk repair/replacement programs and three had replacement repair and new construction programs, Cundiff reported. Of the communities with programs, 18 assess some portion of the cost back to the property owner, while eight do not assess the property owner. Municipalities that do not assess property owners treat sidewalks like streets, in that the cost for repair is borne by the municipality.

Three of the 18 communities that assess citizens have a cap on the amount homeowners pay, although the amount varies. One community reimbursed half the cost up to $250, another required the property owner to pay for the concrete while the city crews made the repairs and one reimbursed citizens half of the cost if they paid within 30 days.

In an interview, Cundiff stated that most of the eight communities that do not assess citizens used to do so, but stopped the practice for two reasons: first, that it’s more efficient for the municipality to make the repairs rather than to assess citizens; and secondly, that more municipalities are, in efforts to enhance walkability, viewing their sidewalks as part of their overall transportation system, along with roads.

Council President Judith Hempfling, in an interview this week, shares that view.

“If we’re going to take care of the sidewalks so we have an effective system of transportation, it will take public resources,” she said, stating that the challenge is finding a balance of what’s most efficient with what’s affordable for the Village.

She also leans toward municipal funding of sidewalks because it seems unfair that some property owners be required to pay for sidewalk repairs while others are not, Hempfling said.

However, changing Village policy on sidewalk maintenance may mean revisiting this year’s decision to assess property owners, Cundiff stated.

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