Sidewalk replacement sparks debate

By GABRIEL GOODWIN
Sunday Times Newspapers

WYANDOTTE – Residents spoke out at Monday’s city council meeting on the financial responsibility placed on them by the city for replacing sidewalks in their neighborhoods.

Michael Daisy and Joe Piasecki asked the council to reconsider the size, scope and frequency of the sidewalk replacement in front of their houses.

Piasecki, 71, relayed his concern through a letter presented at the meeting. He said this is the third time he’s been required to replace slabs in front of house but never to this extent. Piasecki is required to replace 10 slabs, which he said involves removing some of the roots from a 60-foot-tall trees in his front yard.

One of the trees already has been notched to make room for the sidewalk and roots were cut to make a level surface, Piasecki said.

The slabs do not need to be replaced, according to Piasecki, because the current sidewalk presents no trip hazards and has a gradual slope that presents no safety hazards. He said replacing 10 slabs is overkill and presents a no-win situation for him.

“The roots will raise the slabs again in a couple of years,” he said. “I don’t want to continuously be paying for sidewalks. Save the trees and at least some of the existing slabs. Replacing the slabs will cost me over $800, and in doing so they will chop the roots and increase the danger of the trees falling on my house.”

Piasecki said the contractor who previously replaced the slabs said the tree has the potential to fall on the house in a strong windstorm.

Assistant City Engineer Greg Mayhew said he had an engineer assess and take pictures of the sidewalk on the 1200 block of 23rd Street and “it was best described as a small roller coaster with a lot of trip hazards and slabs out of alignment” and said it is due to the trees.

He said in order to fix the problems, the roots would need to be taken out and all the slabs replaced and not just replace the three slabs proposed.

Sabuda said he agrees with Piasecki that there is a problem because one or the other needs to happen. He said either the trees go so the sidewalk can be corrected or the trees stay and the slab movement will happen again with the potential of the tree becoming unstable and falling over on the house or in the street causing further safety concerns. The complaint was referred back to the engineering department for more consideration.

Daisy said his problems lie with the city providing no clear indication of why the slabs outside his house were being marked for replacement and questioned the consistency of replacement.

One of the slabs looked to have the same surface texture as other slabs on the street and another could potentially be lifted, he said. He proposed the council allow him to find alternatives to replacing the sidewalk because of the costs to him.

A resolution was created to allow Daisy a week to obtain a second opinion for an option to lift the sidewalk and present that to the council.

Mayhew said the city has set up its program to replace any sidewalk slabs measuring one-half inch or more higher than the rest of the sidewalk because they can present trip hazards.

These are not the first group of residents to address the council inquiring about their sidewalks being replaced, Councilman Leonard Sabuda said.

“Through the years, we’ve always had people coming up here with regards to this program and why their slabs are being done,” Sabuda said. “I’m to the point, right now, where I would sure like to have some standard other than a half inch because this program and the half inch is too critical, too expensive when you look at it.”

Sabuda referenced Senate and House bills — SB1475 and HB4589, respectively — and said the state allows for a rise in the sidewalk to be two inches before a municipality has to make a reasonable repair.

“The state allows for two inches,” he said. “We are at a half inch. Where did that come in? I ask this council to change the ordinance to two inches and we will be in line with state law.”

City Attorney William Look said there is a presumption, by the state, that if the sidewalk is raised less than two inches then it is reasonably safe, but that doesn’t restrict an individual for suing the city over an injury.

He said the council adopted an ordinance allowing the decision to be made at the discretion of the city engineer and any changes would need to be made within the ordinance. State law allows municipalities to enact stricter standards, and Look said the city had injury claims against it prior to the ordinance.

“The Legislature has changed over the years and it’s something where the state hasn’t been consistent,” Look said. “If you have stricter requirements, you do have less litigation.”

City Administrator Todd Drysdale said lawsuits being brought up against the city was the reason for adopting the more stringent height restriction.

“I can remember a time when we were paying off a lot of money in litigation costs because of the condition of our sidewalks,” he said. “That’s the reason we went in that direction as opposed to the maintaining (the two-inch standard).

“I don’t think we want to go back in that direction again. Until they come up with something that takes all the guesswork out of it, I would say we were right.”

Councilwoman Sheri Sutherby-Fricke said she was hurt on a city sidewalk; and on the same day, six other residents had similar accidents involving sidewalks with less than a two-inch rise.

The city went out and took all responsibility into replacing the problem, she said and pleaded that the city not change the ordinance because it would prevent other injuries.

Fricke said her only comment is that the Engineering Department consider its consistency in inspections because what she hears from residents and businesses is one sidewalk needs replacement, but another one doesn’t even with the same problems.

“I am not in favor of changing (the ordinance) because you will have additional problems,” she said. “We need to be stricter with that and we need to maintain our roads, our sidewalks and everywhere the public exists.”

Other councilors shared the same sentiments as Sutherby-Fricke toward changing the height requirements and the consistency of the inspections.

Mayhew said the residents are charged a bulk rate, offered a five-year payment plan, and a warranty through a city agreement with the contractor for slab replacement.

Mayor Joseph Peterson said residents want to be a part of a safe neighborhood which would include sidewalks. The sidewalks need to be safe, he said, because more children are out riding their bikes and they can hit the wrong crack or gap in the sidewalk and damage the rim or worse, get hurt.

“Do you want your neighborhood to be a safe neighborhood?” Peterson asked. “A safe neighborhood definitely means safe sidewalks because more people are walking because of $4-and-something gas prices a gallon.”

(Gabriel Goodwin can be reached at ggoodwin@bewickpublications.com.)

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