By Melanie Williamson
When the Streets, Buildings and Grounds Committee met on Monday, February 11, their agenda included three separate issues all pertaining to sidewalks. The first of the three issues was regarding the ODOT requirements for a safe pedestrian crossing for the Route 6 overpass and the new plan to have sidewalks installed along the south side of Liberty Avenue from the Vermilion River to the overpass.
City engineer Chris Howard shared that he had reached out to ODOT to discuss what the options were for adding a sidewalk to the overpass bridge. However, there is a new bridge engineer working at ODOT now, and they were not able to meet yet. Howard asserted that he will continue working on it and will get back to council on the issue as soon as possible.
Councilwoman Barb Brady asked if they had a list of the accidents that have happened on the bridge. Police chief Chris Hartung responded that they can provide that information. Howard added that it will help their case when presenting a proposal for a pedestrian walkway.
From the audience, Don Neiding of Foxwood Drive addressed the members of council. He shared that the bridge used to have sidewalks before it was torn down and rebuilt over twenty years ago. He also asserted that the city has to have sidewalks. He specifically stated that he didn’t think it mattered if “the car wash guy didn’t want sidewalks.” He stated that as land is developed the developers and owners should be required to install sidewalks as well as extend the sewer, utilities, and streets to ensure the possibility of further development. He made reference to Avon Lake ordinances that ensure just that. “We can’t play games. Owners shouldn’t have a say…they have to have sidewalks.”
Resident Homer Taft of Edgewater Drive also addressed council stating that he was in favor of pedestrian access but had concerns due to the county study on the Route 6 corridor that suggest future changes. He stated that everyone needs to look carefully at the whole plan to ensure they were coordinating their efforts. Later in the meeting, Mayor Forthofer stated that there have been many studies done by different entities, but that they were merely suggestions and ideas. Forthofer asserted that the city has the final say on any changes or improvements.
While on the topic, Howard stated that he was concerned about council voting to extend the deadline for sidewalks along Liberty another year. He stated that he thinks that will only lead people to putting it off longer prices are only going to go up. He went on to say that he thought they should return to the original deadline of 2020 and the work with businesses that may be having trouble.
Councilwoman-at-large Monica Stark made a motion to return the deadline on the ordinance back to 2020, opposed to 2021, as originally stated. Councilman John Gabriel stated that they haven’t spoken to any of the businesses about the sidewalks, and he felt it was best to keep the extended deadline to give them a chance to plan out the expense. “My concern is for the businesses’ added expense.” After some discussion among the council members, the motion to reduce the deadline for sidewalks was voted down.
Stark then made a second motion to amend the sidewalk ordinance, so that it includes Liberty Auto Wash. When they passed the original ordinance, Liberty Auto Wash was excluded because many felt having the sidewalk dead-end there would encourage pedestrians to either walk over the bridge or attempt to cross the tracks. Stark voted no then because she felt it was unfair to require some businesses to pay for sidewalks but not others. She reiterated her opposition when making this motion.
Council president Steve Herron stated that while he originally voted for the ordinance as it was, after giving it more thought, he now agreed with Stark that Liberty Auto Wash should be included in the sidewalk program. Council members discussed if the empty lot between the car wash and the bridge would be enough of a buffer to discourage people from walking and most agreed that it was. After more discussion, council members voted to approve the amendment including Liberty Auto Wash in the businesses required to put in sidewalks along the south side of Liberty.
The second sidewalk issue discussed was brought up by Mayor Forthofer as he explained to council members his vision for improving the east side of Liberty from the overpass to Baumhart Road. He explained that the east side of Liberty has the largest amount of open property and has the greatest potential for development and new businesses, but it also displays the most inconsistency regarding zoning issues and compliance. Forthofer stated that he does not feel it inspired new business.
His proposal is to create mini-corridors to focus on improvement, so that eventually all the mini-corridors will merge together making all of East Liberty customer-friendly, visually appealing, and marketable. The first mini-corridor he proposed is the area around the intersection of Liberty Avenue and Sunnyside Road. He stated that Homeworks and the Vermilion Farm Market already have sidewalks. Whispering Shores development across the street is working on installing sidewalks, and he spoke with the owners of the new Vintage Crossing, and they are in favor of sidewalks.
Forthofer went on to say that once they have ensured sidewalks and redefined the right-of-way, they can make it easier for residents of Whispering Shores to cross Liberty for shopping and they can “start to green up the area.” The goal is to make the area more consistent with the downtown area and appealing to shoppers and businesses alike.
He closed by saying that once that intersection is done, they can choose a new intersection to focus on and keep working until they have improved all of Liberty Avenue.
Finally, council members discussed issues of sidewalk maintenance and repair throughout the residential areas. There are many streets were the sidewalks are so torn up and shifted that they pose a danger to people walking and are impassable by stroller or wheelchair.
Councilman Steve Holovacs stated that they have had ordinances on the books for years, and this comes down to an enforcement issue. He went on to say the problem comes down to the city needs to have money set aside in order to enforce the ordinance. If a property owner is given a deadline to repair or install a sidewalk and doesn’t, the appropriate course of action is for the city to do the work and then assess the property owner’s taxes. However, that requires the city having money set aside to make the repairs until they are paid back through the tax assessment.
Councilwoman Barb Brady added that there are places like Edison Estates where the sidewalks are interrupted due to undeveloped properties within the neighborhoods. Councilman Frank Loucka stated that if a development is 75% full, they are required to ensure all the sidewalks are installed, which brought the topic back to an enforcement issue.