Another long public hearing on sidewalks expected

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Marcia Nelesen
Saturday, November 23, 2013

JANESVILLE--The people who spoke at a two-hour public hearing on the 2014 sidewalk plan in October are expected again at Monday's public hearing to air their grievances.

The decision on the 2014 plan was delayed until all council members could be present. President Kathy Voskuil was not at the October meeting.

Any vote for or against the plan could be close, as three of the seven council members—Brian Fitzgerald, DuWayne Severson and Douglas Marklein—have indicated they would vote against it.

The five miles on the 2014 program affect 274 property owners and are part of an original seven-year program.

A former council approved the plan with a goal of installing 63 miles of sidewalk to create a safe pedestrian system.

The seven-year program began in 2011 but was halted after a grassroots group, Committee for Sensible Sidewalks, formed to ask that the sidewalk plan be studied. Councilmen DuWayne Severson and Jim Farrell suggested forming a task force to do so.

The task force met 22 times and created criteria to rank streets. The streets that remained on a reduced five-year program include about half of the original sidewalks and were affirmed by unanimous vote of the panel.

The council approved the five-year plan in March, meaning only two years remained because the first three were completed in 2011, 2012 and 2013. In September, the city notified the homeowners on the 2014 plan they would be assessed.

If the 2014 plan is defeated, the 2015 and final plan is less likely to pass.

The council could also opt to change the 2014 plan.

Marklein, in a recent email to council members, appears to support at least some of the 2014 plan but wants to exclude some streets, including Dartmouth Drive.

Many of the people who spoke in October live on Dartmouth Drive and the connecting Sunset Drive. That group has been vocal against the plan. Dartmouth and Sunset residents also spoke during an informal council listening session before the last council meeting.

Marklein's family business, Marklein Builders, developed the Dartmouth Drive area. Marklein also was a member of the Committee for Sensible Sidewalks.

Marklein noted in his email that the task force switched the sidewalk from the north to south side of Dartmouth, so those homeowners did not receive as much notice as other homeowners on the plan.

Carl Weber, public works director, said the committee switched the sidewalk from Waveland Road to North Crosby Avenue because more homes are on the south side—the Janesville Country Club is on the north side—and future users would be drawn from the south side.

Marklein also suggested eliminating sidewalks on Marion Avenue between Highland Avenue and Memorial Drive because of the Sinnissippi Hills area's natural topography.

Interestingly, Sinnissippi Hills is thought to have been the first area whose developer pleaded with the council for an exception from sidewalks back in the 1950s. The exception is what lead to other exceptions and is the reason why some residents now have sidewalks and others do not.

Marklein also suggested deleting Sutherland Avenue because of its large number of trees. And Marklein would also not build city sidewalk along Johnson Street in the Fourth Ward Park.

While homeowners on other streets might have concerns similar to those of homeowners on the streets Marklein singled out for exclusion from the program, he said he wonders where they were a few years ago when their streets were considered.

 “I am not in favor of the sidewalk plan, but I also support the conclusions of the task force,” Marklein said. “I think the hope of the previous council's decision was to wind the sidewalk question down in two remaining programs.”

In the email, he said he wanted to share his views with other council members before the meeting and save time Monday.

Voskuil reminded Marklein that such a discussion via email violates the open meetings law.

The council is also expected to approve sidewalk deferments, which means the majority of property owners would not have to build their sidewalks until they move or for five to 10 years, depending upon how busy their street is.

Marklein noted the average stay in a home is seven years.

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