Council divided on whether or not to require sidewalks for new developments
The Stevens Point Common Council has shown it is divided on whether or not to mandate sidewalks with new residential developments.
Council members have argued a blanket policy requiring sidewalks for all developments would eventually fill in the gaps and make the streets safer for bikes and pedestrians, while others argued it would only exacerbate sidewalk gap problems and is impractical.
The Council started discussing the issue, in terms of how the city should proceed as a whole, when a preliminary site plan for a subdivision plat on Green Avenue was brought to the Stevens Point Plan Commission by David Rowe, a local resident and developer, Monday, June 6.
The Community Development Department had recommended sidewalks be included in the preliminary site plan because Green Avenue was identified as a possible area for sidewalk expansion under the Portage County Bike and Pedestrian Plan, which was adopted by the city as a guiding document earlier this year.
“Staff made the recommendation that sidewalks be installed, because (sidewalks on Green Avenue) is in the plan. That plan was vetted and adopted. City and staff are not addressing the practicality of it,” said Stevens Point Mayor Mike Wiza.
However, Rowe said sidewalks wouldn’t make sense for the property as there are no other sidewalks on Green Avenue and forcing him to put them in, he’ll have to cut down several beautiful old oak trees.
“I’ve been trying to save everything and anything that’s green,” he said.
“I’m not in agreement with doing any sidewalks now. When there’s a plan that’s modified to what’s going to happen (with the Bike and Pedestrian Plan), I believe that would be the best because I’ve heard ‘well, we don’t know if it’s going to be a bicycle path, a sidewalk, we don’t know yet’ and they said it’s easier to do it now than later,” Rowe said. “Well, in my opinion, it wouldn’t be easier. Put them in when you have a plan (for all of Green Avenue).”
Another argument against requiring sidewalks for this development, a small segment of the road, is that it would be an isolated and fragmented section of sidewalk as the rest of the avenue has no sidewalks.
“(Requiring) the sidewalks is totally inconsistent with the remaining part of the area,” said John White, who lives across the street from the proposed subdivision plat. “I live on Green Avenue, I walk that street every day and there are no sidewalks on Green Avenue all the way from Main Street, the old Highway 10, all the way up to Scaffidi Motors. So to require a sidewalk to be placed on the Green Avenue side makes no sense at all … and totally unrealistic for the area. ”
Meleesa Johnson, District 5, said she voted to require sidewalks for a different development last month and voted the same for this one in the interest of consistency.
“The addition of sidewalks into the new developments is consistent with not only the Bike and Pedestrian Plan – which we’re trying promote at a relatively higher level to ensure we have a walkable, bikeable community – but also if you look back at the Eco Municipality Plan of 2006-07, it also mentions sidewalks as a barrier for safety,” Johnson said.
“With all due respect for Bike and Pedestrian Plan and the Eco Municipality Plan, this will be the only stretch of sidewalk on either side of Green Avenue. It will connect to nowhere, it’s going to create a burden on the few homeowners who will have to shovel or snow-blow the sidewalk all winter long … we need to think about this, it’s not always black and white,” said Mary Kneebone, District 7.
Ross Rettler of the Rettler Corp. working with Rowe on the subdivision said allowing fragmented sidewalks is actually the opposite of promoting safety.
“I completely agree that a bike-accessible, pedestrian-accessible community is very important. However, the concern I have with a ‘sidewalk to nowhere,’ we’ll call it, and you filter pedestrians and/or bicyclists from the ‘sidewalk to nowhere’ out into the street at the point where the sidewalk ends, we call that an ‘attractive nuisance,’ and in our field that’s something we want to stay away from,” Rettler said.
“So, to put in a sidewalk where there’s connectivity is essential, however at this point I see it as actually a safety hazard,” he said.
The Plan Commission had a tie vote on whether or not to require sidewalks, which meant it passed the item on to Council without recommendation.
Two weeks later, Council members shared similar pros and cons to requiring sidewalks on the Green Avenue development.
“I think the requirement for sidewalks, particularly for Green Avenue, would be the ‘sidewalk to nowhere’ because nowhere else on the whole length of Green is there a sidewalk,” said Kneebone. “There is a paved shoulder (on Green Avenue) and there is a white stripe on the side so there is a biking/walking lane on Green that I think is sufficient. I think this is a bit of an onerous condition to put on this development because there aren’t going to be other sidewalks put on Green Avenue for years to come.”
Shaun Morrow, District 11, said he was in favor of requiring sidewalks because adding them later is costly to the homeowner and very unlikely to happen. He said if the city required it now, the special assessment won’t fall on whomever the homeowner ends up being at a later date.
“At our last meeting, I spoke in favor of requiring sidewalks here and in all new developments,” said Cathy Dugan, District 8. “The reason is that we have so many patches all over the town – and many in this neighborhood, this is a part of my neighborhood – and we have to start somewhere.
“If we can’t blanket the town all at once because it’s too expensive for everyone, then we have to (add them) incrementally,” she said.
Dugan said Green Avenue is a dangerous road for people to walk or bike on, and the city should “do something about it” soon.
“We need to make this community really attractive for developers to build homes – twin homes, condos, whatever – but this is not a very good idea because we know that sidewalks that stop and start are bad. We’re just creating another one that goes for a little ways and stops,” said Michael Phillips, District 10.
Former City Attorney Louis Molepske Sr., who spoke in support of the Rowe development, said the city has traditionally dealt with adding sidewalks with an unofficial “50-percent” rule. If 50 percent of a neighborhood signed up with the idea of adding sidewalks, then it was something the city would pursue.
“Frankly, I don’t think your fellow residents are standing in line on Green Avenue to put in sidewalks,” Molepske said.
Phillips said maybe the city should take a census of the neighborhood and see who wants sidewalks and try out the 50-percent rule.
“There is something to be said for having to start somewhere,” Wiza said. “I also like the idea of deferred assessments. ‘Once this block gets full, then everyone has to put sidewalks in.’ Something like that would be OK as well. I am uncertain – no, I’m pretty much against the blanket statement that every parcel in the city should have sidewalks.
“There are certain areas where residents prefer not to have sidewalks and it’s very functional. Somewhere like Whitetail Subdivision, it doesn’t really make sense to put sidewalks there because they don’t really go anywhere. Nobody’s going to take sidewalk on Highway 66 to get back to Point,” he said.
“A lot of the properties on the northeast side of town are good examples. However, I do think in the core of the city, in the densely populated areas – like the north side, my former district – that sidewalks should be there,” Wiza said. “There are a lot of people that walk, there is a lot of traffic and there are places that those sidewalks take you. To school, to the park, to downtown.
“Overall, I don’t necessarily agree with all the recommendations in that plan, but overall it’s a plan and I don’t have to agree with everything,” said Wiza. “So that’s where we are. Ultimately, it’s only a plan. It does not always have to be followed, times change and circumstances change. But staff recommended having sidewalks because it is in the plan. Council can do what they want, really.”
The Council voted 6-5 to require Rowe to include sidewalks.
George Doxtator, District 1; Garrett Ryan, District 3; Heidi Oberstadt, District 4; Johnson; Dugan; and Morrow voted to require a sidewalk on the Green Avenue development and David Shorr, District 2; Jeremy Slowinski, District 6; Kneebone; McComb; and Phillips voted against sidewalks.