The Gazette covers City Hall, now a flood-damaged icon on May's Island in the Cedar River

Attention to sidewalks matters, too

In City Hall, Tom Podzimek on April 6, 2008 at 3:25 pm

It’s not all big ball at City Hall.

It’s not all reorganizing government, pushing for downtown revitalization, debating controversial subjects like a troubled Westdale Mall and financially challenged city golf operation.

For a year or more, the City Council has been wrestling with what to do about sidewalks.

Sidewalks seem like small ball. In truth, though, not so many matters have confounded the council more than one a year ago when the council wanted to install sidewalks in a long-established neighborhood in the vicinity of Cleveland Elementary School on the city’s west side.

Here were children walking in the streets to get to school because of an absence of sidewalks in a neighborhood where many homeowners now were retired and on fixed incomes.

In one case, an elderly woman on a corner lot faced a sidewalk assessment on two stretches of sidewalk that reached $7,000.

As council member Tom Podzimek pointed out last week, the size of that proposed assessment was seven times the size of the woman’s annual property-tax bill.

He called such a proposed assessment “quite a burden.”

The sidewalk matter actually is the result of City Hall decisions stretching back decades in which City Hall allowed some residential developments to be built without sidewalks.

Now sidewalks are seen as important in many established spots in the city, but the question is, who is going to pay for them.

In recent years, neighbors confronted with having to pay the sidewalk assessments have not always done so without complaint.

As the start of the street construction season arrives, city staff and the council last week tried to put the final touches on a new city sidewalk policy in the city’s single-family home areas.

In the proposed policy:

Residents will pay 100 percent of the assessment in newer-built neighborhoods in which assessment agreements were signed at the time of neighborhood development. This has been the recent city practice – allowing developers in some places to delay building sidewalks until the need for them became clearer.

In established neighborhoods, residential property owners will pay 50 percent of the installation cost for the first 100 feet of sidewalk, the city the other 50 percent. For sidewalk lengths longer than 100 feet, the total percentage of the cost assessed to the property owner declines. For a sidewalk of 190 feet or longer, the property owner pays 35 percent of the total installation, according to the proposed plan.

The typical sidewalk in the city is 4-foot wide. In places in which the council decides to build a wider sidewalk, the city will pay for the additional width. The city also will pay for retaining walls under the proposed plan.

Additionally, a property owner can construct a concrete sidewalk in lieu of any assessment if approved by city staff. The owner will be reimbursed 25 percent of the cost, under the proposed plan.

In truth, the sidewalk dilemma in some older neighborhoods has been on the City Hall radar screen for a number of years and a number of city councils.

A former citizen regular to City Council meetings, one-time city employee Ed Kral, used to ask the council about sidewalks at one point nearly every week in the public comment period at council meetings. Kral since has passed away.

  1. Yes, I know there will be costs involved re: adding sidewalks…however, we NEED to do this!! I just moved to an older neighborhood without sidewalks and I take my life into my hands everytime I walk the dog.

    Besides that, sidewalks create ‘energy’ in our community. When there are people walking, biking, running outside we have ‘life’ in out community.

    While we are working on this, let’s have reasonal ‘walk’ traffic lights. For example, when crossing First Ave (from Brewed Awakenings to Coe College) or at Edgewood Road NE at 44nd St NE, a person has about 4-5 seconds to cross with the walk light and then it changes…this is crazy! Cars are not so happy with us pedestrians anyway without the light changing so quickly. (In Iowa City some of their lights let you know how many seconds you have to cross…it sends a message that pedestrian are welcome here….)

    My hope is that THIS council will keep pushing for this AND that we never allow new housing to be built without sidewalks!


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