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Village Council— Status quo on sidewalks?

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At Monday night’s Village Council meeting, Council began a discussion on the long vexing topic of how best to maintain adequate village sidewalks, after receiving a recommendation from two of its members that the Village not move ahead with a repair project that had been estimated at $4.8 million.

“We are more or less recommending the status quo,” Council member Marianne MacQueen said. “We’re recommending not to engage in a major overhaul of sidewalks. The main reason is cost.”

MacQueen and Council member Gerry Simms made the recommendation after studying the issue. Council members agreed to continue the sidewalk discussion at its Dec. 5 meeting.

Describing herself as someone “who walks and cycles” on a regular basis, MacQueen said at the meeting that she recognizes that some local sidewalks need repair.
“But on the whole it’s fairly easy to walk around the village,” MacQueen said. “We’re balancing cost with how accessible we are.”

Village government should continue to shoulder responsibility for sidewalk repair, according to a written report from MacQueen and Simms, with these exceptions: property owners who choose to make repairs and those who cause damage to the sidewalks. Also, developers would be responsible for installing sidewalks to Village code. The report also included the recommendation that Village staff clear snow that is piled on sidewalks and curbs downtown during winter, to maintain safety.

In response, Council members Brian Housh and Karen Wintrow raised several concerns (Judith Hempfling was absent). Housh emphasized the need for accessibility and the potential for lawsuits if Village sidewalks are not adequate.

“We have competing priorities, with cost competing with accessibility,” he said. “There are some legal issues.”

Wintrow said that because she believes that homeowners reap financial benefits of good sidewalks if they sell their house, she felt “on the fence” about letting homeowners off the hook for making repairs. And she emphasized the need to soon address some of the most subpar sidewalks.

“I think existing damaged sidewalks need to be replaced or fixed,” she said.
All Council members agreed on the need for immediate repairs for sidewalks currently in the worst shape, especially those on Dayton Street and on West South College, where children biking to school can be affected. Council also encouraged villagers to alert them to sidewalk needs, as had Christine Johnson, who is wheelchair-bound and has informed Council about sidewalk problems on Dayton Street, where she lives.

“It’s an example of what we need, citizens coming to the meeting and saying, ‘This is a problem,’” MacQueen said.

The recommendations from MacQueen and Simms follow many years of various Village Councils wrestling with the sidewalk issue. In 2005 the Village made its first inventory of its 17.2 miles of local sidewalks — at the time Village policy was to hold property owners responsible for sidewalk repair. However, Council at that time found that policy difficult to enforce, with the result that sidewalk repairs went undone. In 2011, Council agreed that the Village should be responsible for sidewalk repair, since sidewalks are a part of the Village transportation system.

That policy change was followed by a study and recommendation by former Village Planner John Yung that all sidewalks be upgraded to Americans with Disability Act, or ADA, standards. At the cost of about $12 per square foot, Yung estimated the total cost to the Village at $4.8 million, which included repairs to all sidewalks and sidewalk ramps. Due to the high cost, Council discussed the possibility of putting a sidewalk levy on the ballot, but since then had not moved forward on a major project.

However, the Village did replace all downtown sidewalks during the recent downtown streetscape project, and also last year repaired the sidewalks on the east side of Xenia Avenue from downtown to the Friends Care Community, to improve access for FCC residents, according to Village Manager Patti Bates.

Should Council choose to follow MacQueen’s and Simms’ recommendations, it’s important that Council at the beginning of each year identify those sidewalks in the worst repair, so that those repairs could be made, Housh said. Currently, the Village sets aside $50,000 a year for sidewalk maintenance, which would fund the repairs.

However, said Bates, “Fifty thousand sounds like a lot, but it doesn’t go far when you’re talking about concrete.”

Other items on Council’s Nov. 21 agenda will be in next week’s News.


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