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City staff request sidewalk hearing delay

From left, Cristina Arnold, City Councilor Barry Foster, Bonnie Bitzer and City Attorney Aaron Holloman review a map with potential priority areas for sidewalks at a Legal Committee meeting on Tuesday evening. (Alison Penn Photo)

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Departments prioritize sidewalks around parks and schools

City of Roswell staff have recommended that an upcoming public hearing on the proposed sidewalk ordinance be postponed.

City Attorney Aaron Holloman said the staff requested more time to establish a policy that would go along with the proposed sidewalk ordinance, which would amend an existing section of city code regarding the responsibility of property owners for sidewalk construction and maintenance.

Holloman asked to delay the public hearing, which he said could be done at the upcoming City Council meeting on Thursday. The sidewalk ordinance hearing — along with other public hearings — is slated for the meeting to be held in Meeting Room A at the Roswell Convention & Civic Center at 912 N. Main St.

Legal Committee members and city councilors Judy Stubbs, Savino Sanchez, Barry Foster and George Peterson reviewed proposed Ordinance 19-11, amending regulations on sidewalks, on Tuesday evening at the Roswell Public Library.

The accompanying administrative policy would allow for a variance mechanism, and for the city manager to create opportunities for flexible payments or cost-sharing, as well as determining how to prioritize neighborhoods in need of sidewalks.

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Holloman said sidewalk maintenance requirements remain the same.

Holloman added that he and the city staff were interested in hearing what councilors may have heard from constituents, to create a sidewalk ordinance that is a “good, well-considered product.”

“One of the things that you’re doing in addressing sidewalks is kind of what the vision is for the quality of life in the city should be,” Holloman said. “So one of the priorities is that it needs to be a walkable area. You want to make sure that your infrastructure for encouraging pedestrians and people that might have to have wheelchairs is in good shape.”

Ordinance 19-11 complies with existing laws for sidewalks from the state and city codes, Holloman said. He explained that properties are already subject to Roswell Public Works specifications and requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Priority areas

Holloman said City Engineer Louis Najar and the engineering department worked to provide a map with potential priority areas for sidewalk maintenance — highlighting areas near schools and parks.

Holloman added that addressing sidewalks is “not a cheap proposition” and enforcement will be limited by the city’s budget.

If half of the sidewalks within a two-block (800 feet, or 400 feet per block) radius of the parks and schools needed repair, Najar shared a cost estimate of more than $114 million based on a 2016 Community Development Block Grant sidewalk project close to Mesa Middle School at 1601 E. Bland St.

He said the condition of curbs, gutters and sidewalks varied in this area, making it a great example for the project.

Holloman and Najar said the map of schools and parks is also being used in conjunction with the in-progress Roswell Bicycle and Pedestrian masterplan, where citizens used an interactive map online to identify gaps and other problem areas for getting around town.

Bill Morris, community development director, and Najar said the drafted pedestrian masterplan is about 75% complete. Najar said the data from the engineering study could “help drive” the priorities.

Holloman said the prioritization would give the city time to identify properties in need, as well as to alert and work with property owners, ideally a year in advance.

He said the plan is to have a sidewalk crew address multiple properties at once to create cost savings.

Other concerns

Christa Morrow, a citizen, was concerned about the discretion of the city to determine what “undue hardship” could mean for a property owner. Holloman said criteria for cost assistance was being reviewed and drafted currently, which the public can see before the council votes.

Morrow also said the ordinance would create burdens for local property owners and that she would be interested in cost-sharing, or paying a small fee on her water bill toward sidewalks.

Holloman said it was not the intention to put a burden on homeowners; however, the liability already exists for homeowners where their property abuts the sidewalk. He said there is no “new burden” being added, instead, other tools for the city to address sidewalks would be put in place.

Councilor Juan Oropesa said he was concerned with the “bad policy” for sidewalks because of liability and the burden on property owners.

Instead of the policy, Oropesa suggested the city budget an amount dedicated to sidewalk work — similar to how the city handles sewer manhole rehabilitation annually.

Foster countered Oropesa’s comments by saying that the policy would do “exactly opposite” of what he was concerned about. He emphasized that there is no legal way for the city to allow cost-sharing and work with owners. Currently, he said many property owners are already in violation and the city is not citing them.

Another citizen said he saw pedestrians — from mothers with their kids to those with disabilities — choosing to walk in the street instead of the sidewalks and that sidewalks were a matter of public safety.

Stubbs said the committee is in “no rush” on the ordinance, but would “rather do it right than quickly.”

The original discussion of this ordinance began at the Legal Committee’s July meeting.

At the full City Council meeting on Nov. 14, a public hearing for the proposed sidewalk ordinance was passed once Mayor Dennis Kintigh cast his vote to break the council’s 4-4 tie.

Special projects reporter Alison Penn can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 205, or at reporter04@rdrnews.com.

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