The city may not enforce its sidewalk rules after all.
This month, the new city engineer, Chris Wallin, announced that he would require homeowners to replace any missing concrete sidewalk slabs — even those buried under blacktop at the bottom of a driveway. He said enforcement would begin June 1.
But Mayor Gary McCarthy indicated that he might not support that enforcement.
“He should talk to me before he does some of these things,” McCarthy said of Wallin.
He declined to elaborate, saying only, “That’s my quote.”
Wallin’s announcement had caused some consternation, especially among those who bought a house from someone who had blacktopped over their sidewalk. They argued it was unfair to force them to undo something they had not done.
Some owners went further and actually removed the sidewalks along their lawns, hammering out the concrete and covering the space with grass seed. Replacing an entire stretch of concrete sidewalk could cost a homeowner thousands of dollars.
On Marshall Avenue, so many homeowners have removed their sidewalk that the remaining pieces are in the minority. Some owners removed the sidewalk to their property line, while the neighboring owner did not, leaving a strange juxtaposition: a sidewalk that begins in a grassy expanse and ends, abruptly, just past the next driveway.
For many neighbors, the sidewalk has always been missing.
One woman said the sidewalk in front of her house was gone when she bought the property nearly 42 years ago.
After speaking with the mayor, Wallin said he was not sure whether he would force those homeowners to replace sidewalks they never knew they were supposed to have.
“It’s a very odd situation,” he said.
If someone removed their sidewalk now, he said, he could clearly fine them or force them to replace it. But he hesitated to do the same to homeowners who likely were not the ones who removed the sidewalk.
But, Wallin said, other owners on the street had maintained their sidewalks.
“I want to be just and fair to all the property owners,” he said, adding, “I would not like to see this become a trend in the city.”
But before making a decision, he plans to meet with the city attorney and likely discuss it with the City Council, he said.
“I’m trying to be as prudent as possible,” he said.
Wallin might not get much support from residents. Many owners on Marshall Avenue said they’d prefer grass over a sidewalk.
“Because that’s another thing to take care of in the winter. We don’t want any lawsuits,” said Cassandra Davis, who does not have a sidewalk in front of her house.
Others cited the cost of maintaining and replacing the concrete, as well as the annoyance of other residents walking along their property.
But some residents said they wished the city would restore their missing sidewalks.
“It’d be nice to have one. It’d be safer for the kids,” said Lou Horvath, whose sidewalk has been blacktopped over but still exists.
It doesn’t go very far, however — the neighbor next door has no sidewalk.
“It just stops,” Horvath said. “I thought of even covering mine up because the one next to me is covered up.”
But instead he sold his house. He’s planning to leave behind the sidewalk, still intact but leading to nowhere.
A neighbor, John Carlson, is one of the lucky ones: six adjacent properties, including his own, have sidewalks, although most of them are blacktopped, not the original concrete.
Carlson said he wanted to keep it that way and expand it.
“I appreciate the fact that we do have a sidewalk,” he said, “so people don’t have to walk in the street.”
City Councilman Carl Erikson has been arguing for the city to replace sidewalks as it paves roads this year. The City Council voted two years ago to temporarily stop repairing sidewalks and curbs so that the city could pave more streets. The city can only afford to pave about two miles of streets a year with sidewalks, while it can do five to 10 miles without sidewalks.
Even those who said they wanted a sidewalk on Marshall Avenue said they would prefer that the city pave more streets.
“It’s an interesting dilemma,” Carlson said. “I’d say put it into roads because we still have a lot of potholes.”
Those who see no value in sidewalks wholeheartedly agreed.
“More roads. They need to fix them up properly,” Davis said.