Friday, June 21, 2019

A Statement in Support of Greenville's Proposed Sidewalk Replacement Program

by John Liette

The City of Greenville recently announced plans for a proposed project to target the city's neighborhoods, one section at a time, to enforce an 18 year old ordinance requiring property owners to replace broken or otherwise damaged sidewalks at the owner's expense. Under the proposed plan, property owners would be given a time frame to complete the work. If the property owner would fail to complete the replacement within that time frame, the city would bid the work out and have it completed for them, assessing the resulting bill onto their property taxes over a given number of years (the exact timeline and number of years, as well as other variables in this program, remain to be firmly decided).

This has, understandably, caught traction as a hot topic among property owners as estimates for specific areas needing addressed have already gone out to home owners. The city sent out letters that highlight the areas of the properties that need addressed as well as any large, obstruction causing trees that will need to be removed. The city contracted with a third party company to evaluate this first section, which encompasses the areas east of Broadway, west of Tecumseh Street, south of E Water St and north of East 5th Street, and delivered estimates for each lot. If seen through, the plan would see the entirety of the city's sidewalks addressed over a 10 year period.

I attended this week's city council meeting and spoke in support of the program, as I believe the sidewalks as a whole have been neglected for far too long. I live in the area deemed 'phase 1' and received an estimate that was a little over $6,000 to replace 604 square feet of sidewalk. I would imagine that many property owners, like me, desire new sidewalks but they have simply been a low priority on the list of big ticket things that need addressed with our family's budget. I believe that this program, if implemented with care and consideration, can significantly raise the standard of living in our neighborhood while creating access via walkable pathways that have been the victim of deterioration for far too long, while taking steps to lighten the financial blow this would land.

You can read my full remarks to city council below:

When my wife and I bought our house almost 10 years ago, we knew we were buying a lot of deteriorating sidewalks that would eventually have to be dealt with. Like many other property owners in the area, we were somewhat surprised, disappointed even, when we learned it is our financial obligation as property owners to upkeep and replace sidewalks as needed, rather than it being something the city was responsible for.

We were forced to learn more about this subject in 2011 when a large, old, dying tree next to our house that had been pushing up several sections of sidewalk for years, finally gave way and fell, thankfully into the street and not into our home. In fact, I had just driven past this tree moments before it fell. Thankfully, the only damage it did was to the sections of sidewalk it had already been destroying with the growth of its roots over the years.

The street department quickly took care of the tree in the road, but fixing the sidewalk fell to us, a young family still starting out and with only one income. We scraped and saved and, after a couple of inquiries from the city about our timeline, we replaced the damaged sidewalk. That new section is just about the only section on that side of our property that is not encapsulated by grey spray painted arrows at the moment.

The proposed sidewalk replacement program has yielded us an estimated bill of $6,040 to replace 604 square feet of sidewalks.

I believe these sidewalks must be replaced. I believe a walkable surface is a necessity to move our neighborhoods into the right direction in terms of making it a more viable, welcoming place for people to live and invest in, let alone to connect those of us already here.

When we first moved in I couldn’t believe the number of people walking down the middle of our street on a regular basis This includes families with small children and often parents pushing strollers. I actually complained about it to several different people in casual settings and was always met with the same response: “the sidewalks are terrible and it’s much easier to walk down the street.”

Just this week my wife and I saw two people in powered wheelchairs go down our street, again, literally riding in the street and weaving between parked cars to avoid traffic due to the surface of the sidewalks being such rough terrain that the risks of dealing with road traffic seemed less than the risks of taking a spill or getting stuck on the sidewalk.

Aside from the clear and present need for the sidewalks to be passable for the disabled, or those who simply aren’t going to choose to walk over, around, and through the damaged terrain, nearly all properties for sale in our area list being close to downtown as an attraction for prospective buyers. Greenville’s downtown area, specifically, is in a period of revitalization between the upcoming openings of the Yolo Park and the Sure Shot Tap House, and existing revitalized spaces like the Palace Building, the Merchant House, A&B Coffee, Sadie Grace, and so many other businesses. Our neighborhood is in desperate need of a level of investment and maintenance to attract folks not just to visit the areas on Broadway, but to live and play in the surrounding neighborhoods as well.

Our neighborhood and the city as a whole have a lot of problems we all know about and have talked about for all the years I have owned property in the city and I’m sure for years and years prior to that. New sidewalks will not cure all of these problems but the first step to making a neighborhood desirable for the types of activity you actually want to take place, we must make the area itself desirable. One component of that overall picture are the sidewalks and they have been neglected as a whole for far too long.

Replacing the sidewalks is expensive. The cost of replacing them is a burden on my family as well as most of the other families who will be affected by this, especially those with not just hundreds of square feet of sidewalks but also multiple large trees to be taken down and replaced. But to me, it’s a burden worth shouldering, with the city’s help.

I am speaking tonight to voice support for the proposed program to replace the sidewalks in our area, but to also implore council and the city administration to exhaust all efforts, both financially and creatively, to help the property owners most adversely impacted by this plan.

Incoming council member Matthew Staugler has proposed multiple ways to ease this burden on citizens either by graduated repayment periods based on the amount assessed, city funded grants to those with the lowest incomes, keeping any administrative fees or interest at an absolute minimum, or any other means where the city can help.

As much as I am on board with property owners bearing the financial burden and responsibility of this project, I also know the city has identified this as an issue for nearly 20 years without creating a plan to address it and having the fortitude to see it through. Therefore, I again urge those in charge to not just impose the fees onto property owners, but to find ways to work with us, to hear ideas and being willing to approach the issue with a desire to make it work for as many people as possible.

When I think of what our neighborhood will look like 20 years from now, I sincerely hope that it is inviting to families of all ages, having reversed the process of deterioration that has occurred over the last few decades. In my opinion, addressing simple infrastructure like sidewalks now can set the stage for the revitalization we all desperately want.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Featured Posts

/* Track outbound links in Google Analytics */