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City ‘treads’ carefully on sidewalk issue

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“I don’t think anyone in the city is interested in making people who can’t afford to do this kind of work do it,” says City Attorney Aaron Holloman. The amended ordinance would give people the opportunity to request variances or to appeal citations. (Lisa Dunlap Photo)

City could require property owners to make repairs under amended ordinance

The city of Roswell is considering changes to one of its ordinances to hold local property owners responsible for having safe, unobstructed and well-maintained sidewalks, with the city able to require repairs or corrections at the property owner’s expense in some circumstances.

“This is not a new issue. This has been decades in the making,” said Mayor Dennis Kintigh, who added that city staff and city councilors should take their time in considering changes and “tread deliberately.”

He added that the issue presents some unusual aspects because sidewalks are both under private ownership and available for public use.

“We require homeowners to have these kept in good condition, but they are in no position to control what happens on them,” he said. “In other words, they cannot keep people from walking (on them). It is a sidewalk adjacent to a street. It is a public thoroughfare, just as a street is, which is the root of my struggle with this whole thing. It is an odd duck, if you will.”

City attorneys and members of the Roswell City Council Legal Committee discussed the draft of an amended ordinance at a Wednesday meeting. No action was taken, and the matter is likely to go through many more committee meetings before reaching the entire City Council for its consideration and possible vote.

The current ordinance indicates that sidewalks are property owners’ responsibility, but the amended ordinance would spell out that the sidewalks abutting private property are required to be free of cracks or degradation; have no depressions; be unobstructed by vegetation, objects or ice and snow; and in compliance with the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the city of Roswell Public Works standards.

If cited by the city and if appeals are not filed or successful, either the property owner would have to pay for repairs or modifications or the city would do the work and place a lien on the property, following City Council action.

“I don’t think anyone in the city is interested in making people who can’t afford to do this kind of work do it,” said City Attorney Aaron Holloman. “That being said, I could see a situation where we pass the ordinance if only for protection on the liability issue.”

City staff discussed that ADA provisions require accessible and safe sidewalks according to current standards and do not grant allowances for older sidewalks built before the standards were introduced.

As currently drafted, the amended ordinance would allow property owners four opportunities to appeal a city violation finding. Part of that process would include the opportunity to request a variance due to undue hardship or extraordinary circumstances.

The ordinance also states that the city could elect to pay for repairs or could enter into cost-sharing arrangements to have the work done.

Many issues still remain to be resolved, including when cracks would be considered unsafe, whether neighborhoods without sidewalks should be required to install them and if property owners would be required to widen or improve sidewalks if a neighboring property did.

In prior discussions, Holloman said that state law gives municipalities authority to decide how to handle sidewalks and that different cities in New Mexico have different methods for handling sidewalk maintenance. A Las Cruces ordinance requires the city to maintain and repair sidewalks at its own cost, unless it is proven that the property owner caused the damage. Most other cities require property owners to be responsible for sidewalks near them. The cost of repairing sidewalks to meet ADA standards could be several thousand dollars, and up to $12,000 for corners.

In other matters, the Infrastructure Committee voted to forward to the City Council leases and other issues related to the Roswell International Air Center, including the changing of the air center name to omit the word “international.” Consideration of a Request for Proposals to find a new marketing and advertising firm for the city also moved forward. Those items will go onto the consent agenda, meaning they will be voted on without discussion unless the City Council votes to place the item on the regular agenda. The City Council is due to meet Sept. 12.

Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 311, or at reporter02@rdrnews.com.