City workshops sidewalk code

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SANDPOINT — Who should pay for new sidewalk construction or repairs?

That was the primary question addressed during a City Council workshop earlier this month where a draft code was introduced on the subject.

“Sidewalks are not only important and valuable, they are not a luxury,” said Amanda Wilson, the city’s Infrastructure and Development Services manager. “We consistently hear that they are a necessity for many people. It is the only way people can get around for those who can’t drive.”

Per the draft code proposed at the workshop, new sidewalk construction would be required as the responsibility of the city when included in an adopted capital improvement plan or as otherwise approved by City Council.

It would be the responsibility of the property owner, for sidewalk construction along the lot frontage abutting the public street, when a permit for construction is obtained for any new building, addition, alteration or repair — regardless of the zone — if no sidewalk exists; one or more lots abutting the lot has an existing sidewalk; and the total square footage of construction, per the International Code Council, exceeds 25 percent of the value of any existing buildings; or as otherwise required by City Code for land subdivisions.

The proposed code for replacement or repair was nearly identical to the new sidewalk construction proposal.

While some who participated in the workshop agreed they would like to see the city take on more responsibility, Wilson said the only way to ensure funding is to place much of the responsibility on property owners.

“On the contrary, if we say we are not comfortable with the owner paying … we want more ownership on the city — the fact is, funding will always be uncertain,” Wilson said. “That is just a reality of the matter.”

To construct sidewalks where there are none throughout the city would cost more than $30 million, Wilson said. Sidewalks are the only public benefit that the city currently places the responsibility on property owners, she said.

Community member Michael Murdock said he and his wife have been building new homes in Sandpoint for 38 years and would like to see the city take on 100 percent of the responsibility for sidewalks.

“If I want to improve a piece of property, I am forced to do this,” Murdock said. “I am improving your town and you are penalizing me.”

Councilman Thomas Eddy, who is also in construction, said in an “ideal world” it would be great for the city to take on the full responsibility of funding sidewalks.

“There are so many other working parts that we can’t throw $1 million at this right now, let alone $15 million or $20 million,” Eddy said. “There needs to be a balance.”

City Administrator Jennifer Stapleton said the proposed code maintains that balance of responsibility between property owners and the city. The city’s multimodal transportation planning efforts will add to the city’s commitment as they will be looking for ways and prioritizing funding for sidewalks and other areas of transportation.

The multimodal transportation plan was, in fact, part of the Nov. 6 meeting as well, with council members approving an agreement with Otak, Inc., in the amount of $125,000 for master planning and engineering efforts.

Multimodal includes all modes of transportation, Wilson said, including walking, biking and vehicles.

“We know without a doubt that we have a variety of issues throughout our entire city related to all modes of transportation, whether we are talking about our streets and the fact that they need upgraded, whether we are talking about intersection improvements …” Wilson said. “This is not a plan that is just based upon vehicles. It is a plan that when we are looking at streets, we are also thinking about the connectivity of other modes.”

The importance of the plan, Wilson said, is to ensure it is not another plan that sits on a shelf but is a “very clearly defined action plan.”

The plan is expected to address pavement conditions, revised truck routes and ADA accessibility, as well as focus on specific areas such as the Division and Pine intersection. It will also provide recommendations for improving codes, policy and standards among other aspects.

According to the preliminary schedule for the plan, the city and its consultants will be engaging the public over the next few months through workshops and surveys, with a draft plan expected by May 2020.

Mary Malone can be reached by email at mmalone@bonnercountydailybee.com and follow her on Twitter @MaryDailyBee.

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