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Janesville council to decide fate of sidewalk program

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MARCIA A. NELESEN
July 10, 2010
— Do they or don’t they support sidewalks in Janesville?

City residents might find out Monday when the city council considers a staff recommendation to scrap an ambitious sidewalk program approved by a previous council in 2008.


“We’re trying to find something that’s acceptable to the council and the public,” said Mike Payne, engineering manager.


Recent council votes apparently gave staff reason to doubt that the council has the political will to uphold the 2008 Pedestrian Transportation Corridor Plan.


Staff now suggests that sidewalks be built by petition only. That makes it likely that few sidewalks would be built in established areas because residents who abut the sidewalks must pay.


All subdivisions built after 2006 have had sidewalks installed on both sides of the street.


The recommendation is being made after the current council delayed implementing the 2008 plan for a second year, citing tough economic times. In April, the council also rejected a staff recommendation to build a mile of sidewalk requested by residents who wanted students to have safer routes to school.


The Pedestrian Transportation Corridor Plan was intended to end the annual controversy stirred when staff recommends sidewalks for installation.


The 2008 plan was to build through seven years nine miles of planned but unfunded sidewalk to complete Janesville’s comprehensive sidewalk plan. The sidewalks had been planned for years but never built because councils either gave in to public pressure or didn’t believe the sidewalks were necessary.


The council in 2008 thought the Pedestrian Transportation Corridor Plan would end the annual sidewalk controversy. They reasoned that the seven-year plan was fair because it would build sidewalks planned for years. It also would give residents plenty of time to save to pay for the sidewalks.


Most importantly, it would create a safe sidewalk system.


But the current council seems to have little desire to carry out the plan—even though the majority say they believe in sidewalks.


At the April meeting, council member George Brunner asked: “Are we going to support what we approved in a pedestrian transportation plan, or are we going to be back to being wishy-washy?”


Payne acknowledged it’s “not pleasant” to be the staff member suggesting a sidewalk and being caught between a less-than-supportive council and an angry public.


Payne said the staff’s new recommendation “definitely scales back” the 2008 proposal.


“It’s an overhaul of the current system,” Payne said. “It’s my opinion that this approach would be more palatable for the council based on the action they have taken in the last two (years).


“As we know, the sidewalk program can always be revisited,” Payne said. “We could implement these things and in five years be stepping it back up at the council’s request.”


Staff recommends:


-- Creating a petition process for the public to request installation of planned but unfunded sidewalks. A petition would have to include a minimum of 10 signatures representing owners of separate properties within one-quarter mile of the requested sidewalk. The signatures must include 30 percent of the abutting property owners on the block proposed for sidewalk installation. If only one side of the street is requested, the property owners requesting the walk must own property on the requested side.


-- Requiring 50 percent of abutting property owners per block to sign a petition in favor of a sidewalk if the sidewalk is unplanned. Currently, a petition must be signed by 30 percent of the abutting property owners or 10 unrelated people residing within one-quarter mile of the requested sidewalk.


-- Capping the annual sidewalk program at three miles. The seven miles in the 2008 plan would be too difficult for staff, considering that there are many conflicts when installing new sidewalks in established areas, Payne said. Those conflicts include landscaping in the way of the planned sidewalk, grade issues and drainage.


City Manager Eric Levitt also recommends that the council review possible gaps—such as missing sidewalk on a block or a short connection missing between existing sidewalk—and provide recommendations for building those sidewalks on an annual basis.


Under the recommended changes, would any planned but unfunded sidewalk ever be built?


Payne said parent advocacy groups or neighbors around schools, shopping areas or in higher-density housing could petition for a sidewalk and be successful.


The staff recommendation is a “starting point for discussion,” Payne said.


If you go

The Janesville City Council will meet at 7 p.m. Monday in City Hall, 18 N. Jackson St.


Items on the agenda include:


-- A report from a consultant about plans to renovate the Janesville Ice Arena or build a new structure.


-- A vote to sell land at 305 S. Pearl St. The city bought the property and tore down the structure for a total of $17,750. Only one adjoining property owner wants to buy the land and has offered $5,000 rather than a city offer of $8,900. The property is surrounded by industrial zoning on all sides. If the council does not accept the offer, it is unlikely another buyer would come forward, and the city would continue to pay to upkeep the property, according to staff.


-- A request from staff to deny a claim from a woman who said she was injured when she stood up from a chair under the stairs in the coffee shop at the Hedberg Public Library and hit her head. Christine Welcenbach is suing for $15,722 in medical expenses.


-- A public hearing on installing a stop sign on Enterprise Drive at Wuthering Hills Drive.



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