NEWS HEADLINES

Slow march toward sidewalks continues

By Bob Buckel | Published Wednesday, June 11, 2014

The message should be coming through loud and clear to anyone platting property or planning to build a house in Decatur.

You’re going to have to put in sidewalks.

It wasn’t always that way, of course – that’s why in most Decatur neighborhoods, walkers stroll in the streets and try to avoid automobile traffic. But over the last several years, the city council has consistently denied requests to skip the sidewalk requirement.

They denied three more Monday evening.

Developer Mark Southard had requested variances from the city’s sidewalk requirement on three lots in the King’s Terrace Addition in the north part of town. He cited the fact that there are no other sidewalks in the addition.

City Planning Director Dedra Ragland gave the council a briefing on the requests at their Monday meeting.

King’s Terrace Estates was approved Oct. 27, 1997 with 34 platted lots – 17 of which have been developed. Three are currently under construction and 14 are vacant.

“To our knowledge, only one has escrowed funds for sidewalks,” Ragland said.

“We had some lots developed in 2007, some in 2008,” she said. “I can’t explain to you why the sidewalks were not constructed. I have no idea why we didn’t require that the funds be escrowed.”

Normally the city gives a builder the option of putting in the sidewalks, or depositing the funds for their construction into the city’s escrow account, to be used when the majority of the homeowners along a street have put up the funds, or when there is a major street project in the neighborhood.

An example of that system at work – albeit with curb-and-gutter, not sidewalks – is currently visible along Deer Park Road on the west side of town.

“A few years ago, Crossroads Church was getting ready to build their new facility, and they were given the option of escrowing or building [curb-and-gutter],” City Manager Brett Shannon said. “They chose to escrow.”

Now, with a major re-paving project due on Deer Park this summer, city crews have built the curb-and-gutter – using the escrow money the church had put up years ago.

“That curb-and-gutter is now in place, and the funding to pay for the concrete for that came from the escrow money,” Shannon said. Essentially, the sidewalk projects in city neighborhoods will follow that same path.

It will take years, if not decades – providing future councils remain consistent in upholding the requirement.

“There was a philosophy and a mindset … just to let things happen however they happened,” Ragland said, referring to the time before she, Public Works Director Earl Smith and Building Official Jackie Miller joined the city staff. “I know when Earl got here, his stance was that we are going to enforce the subdivision regulations,” she said. “Jackie also agreed that it should be enforced and he would be the one responsible for making sure that sidewalks got constructed.”

Mayor Martin Woodruff approves, and said he was “disappointed” to see that King’s Terrace had been halfway built out with no sidewalk requirement enforced.

How to go back and fix that – not only in King’s Terrace but throughout the city – was the topic of discussion Monday.

“Obviously we need to go ahead and require the funds being escrowed to take care of that,” councilmember Jay Davidson said. “My question is, how do we go back on the ones that didn’t and say, ‘Hey, we need to do this.’?”

Shannon said the least painful way to do it would be as part of an assessment at the time of road construction or resurfacing.

Meanwhile councilmember Cary Bohn, who recently completed a house in King’s Terrace and did put up the escrow funds for future sidewalks, said Southard appears to be forming up to pour sidewalks.

“It appears to me he’s planning on putting them in,” Bohn said.

Ragland said only when a piece of property is platted or a building permit is applied for does the sidewalk requirement kick in. Remodeling and even additions do not trigger it.

Bohn wondered when the city will start using some of the escrowed money and building sidewalks.

“As far as trying to answer a question about when are going to use escrowed funds to build sidewalks in a neighborhood – that’s probably a question better answered by the council,” Smith said. “As Brett suggested, probably the better way, if we have people escrowing funds for some of the curb in there, the better way in all fairness is to have an assessment program where each person pays for his own lot.

“But that’s a council call, not a technical call.”

Smith said concrete sidewalks would cost in the neighborhood of $3 to $3.25 per square foot – meaning a 1,000 feet of sidewalk would likely require about $1,200 to build.

OTHER ACTION

The council also:

  • approved requests by the East Side Alumni Association to close Walnut and Main Streets for a Juneteenth Celebration parade starting at 11 a.m. June 21. The group will also close Brown and Arthur streets that evening from 1 to 10 p.m. at Louida Willis Park to continue the celebration.
  • approved a request by the Junior Woman’s Club for a 5K run Saturday, Sept. 13 starting at Carson Elementary and finishing at Decatur High School;
  • approved a request by Double Creek Capital to replat 5.8 acres at Preskitt and Old Reunion Road into two lots. The company is requesting a zoning change for the construction of a new funeral home;
  • approved a special-use permit by Live Oak Holdings, LLC, a California-based company that is purchasing Governor’s Ridge nursing and assisted living facility.
  • approved on second reading the addition of Mixed Use Land Use in the city’s glossary of terms, the Mixed Use Land Use designation on the city’s land use map, and designated properties along U.S. 81-287 between Mulberry Street and the north city limits as mixed-use land use.

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