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Decatur City Council votes on a number of sidewalk issues

By Brian Knox | Published Saturday, October 13, 2018
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Sidewalks were at the center of the discussion at Monday’s Decatur City Council meeting as the council considered seven variance requests.

Most of the discussion took place during the first request, by Paige Warner, who recently purchased a home at the corner of South Cowan and West Main streets with the intention of making the property a bed and breakfast. Warner was seeking two variances to the city’s ordinance requiring sidewalks: one for the right of way along Cowan Street and another along Main Street.

Warner told the council her main concern was possible destruction of an old stone wall, which has exposed footing in places, that surrounds the home along with a utility pole in the same area.

“Our main concern is the utility pole and the exposed footing of the foundation of the wall, which we think is about as old as the house,” she said. “So we’re very concerned we might be sacrificing this really cool piece of architecture during the construction of the sidewalk in order to get it between the two.”

Mayor Martin Woodruff said he was in favor of sidewalk construction whenever possible due to public safety issues.

“People talk as if sidewalks and streets are two separate things, but in actuality, what a sidewalk is part of your thoroughfare, your public right of way transportation thoroughfare,” he said. “The pavement is there to support the automobile traffic, and the sidewalk is there to support your pedestrian traffic. And we have tended to overlook that a lot in the past.”

Woodruff said he understands there are instances where a variance might make sense, particularly for a person’s homestead in older neighborhoods not along a main thoroughfare.

Council member Jay Davidson said he agreed with Woodruff, particularly with the need for sidewalks along major thoroughfares such as Main Street.

“I think there will be more and more people who come to downtown who will go up and down there, who will stay at your bed and breakfast and be walking to downtown,” Davidson said, addressing Warner.

Council member Mike McQuiston said he often hears from residents who want more places in town to exercise and walk.

“Clearly a street is not a safe place to do that,” he said.

City Engineer Earl Smith said requiring the construction of a sidewalk along the Cowan Street side of the property might be particularly burdensome due to the significant grade difference between the curb and the wrought iron fence which would likely require a retaining wall.

The council voted to approve the variance request for the Cowan Street side while denying the variance request for the Main Street side.

Among the other sidewalk-related items, the council approved variance requests for:

  • property at 701 S. Miller Street for Miller and Carpenter streets;
  • property at 604 S. Hill Street for Carpenter and Hill streets; and
  • property at 804 S. Trinity St. for West Hallsell Street.

The council denied a sidewalk variance request for property at 804 S. Trinity St. for South State Street.

All of the action followed the city’s planning and zoning commission’s recommendations.

However, one item up for consideration for the council had not received a recommendation from the commission due to the lack of a majority vote by the commission. That sidewalk variance request was for property at 1798 S. Trinity St. The council remanded the item back to the commission for another vote.

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