New Janesville City Council members don’t support sidewalks

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Tuesday, September 27, 2011
— What a difference an election makes.

The Janesville City Council’s newest members on Monday made the future of a seven-year sidewalk plan approved by past councils uncertain. The council decided to delay a vote to implement Round 2 of the sidewalk plan until the full, seven-member council is seated in two weeks.

Councilman Yuri Rashkin was absent Monday.

Some in the audience were not happy, believing the council postponed the decision when fewer residents would be attending. Others said they would be in chambers in two weeks, regardless.

Two council newcomers, Deb Dongarra-Adams and Sam Liebert, both said they would have voted against the plan Monday.

Councilman Tom McDonald made the motion to postpone the vote for two weeks, “knowing this will not pass tonight.”

The vote would have failed only if Councilwoman Kathy Voskuil had voted against it. She has supported the plan in the past but did not indicate Monday how she would have voted.

Sidewalks are controversial in Janesville because some residents are required to have them and others are not.

In 2006, the council required all new subdivisions to have sidewalks on both sides of the streets in hopes of avoiding future problems.

In 2008, it approved a plan to close the gaps in the city’s sidewalk system in a seven-year span. Council members said they believed sidewalks were needed for safety, were good for neighborhoods and were a matter of equity.

Implementation of the plan was delayed until this year, however, because of the bad economy.

As usual, residents filled council chambers Monday to protest proposed sidewalks. About 200 property owners are affected by 5.1 miles of new sidewalk.

About 20 residents who spoke Monday doubted the sidewalks were needed for safety and questioned the logic of the proposed segments. They said they did not want to lose landscaping and complained about the maintenance and the cost in a poor economy.

“Normally, I support sidewalks,” Liebert said, adding he lives in the Look West area where everyone has sidewalks. But he also remembers walking in the streets in the Wuthering Hills area when he was young with no safety problems.

He said he would vote against the plan because of the economy, suggesting a moratorium until it improves.

Councilman Russ Steeber said he has realized during his years on the council that there is never a good time to ask people to build sidewalks.

He said the sidewalk program has already begun, with the first sidewalks built this summer. People just like those in chambers Monday were in the audience protesting that, he said.

“They gave exactly the same reasons,” he said. “That council looked at it and said, ‘We need to start moving in a positive direction.’

“That took a lot of intestinal fortitude. It took a lot of nerve to basically stand back and say, ‘We need to do the right thing for the city as a whole.”

Councilman George Brunner said residents have contacted him in support of sidewalks and spoke of equity.

“What about the property owners that have to install them and keep them clear, and what about the overall benefit for the pedestrian plan?” he asked. “If you start taking it out piecemeal, then you’re breaking up the system.”

“If the city doesn’t continue with the plan, can the guy around the corner take his out?” Brunner asked. “Why not? Where’s the equity of it?”

Dongarra-Adams said she feels strongly about the issue, having recently paid off a five-year assessment bill for a new sidewalk.

She said she doesn’t believe the new sidewalk is well-used and made little sense. She said she gets stressed out about having to clear the snow and wonders why planners picked her side of the street and not the other side.

“I don’t know how they came up with this plan for sidewalks years ago,” she said, adding she wasn’t sure common sense was involved.

“I personally feel there needs to be a harder look at it,” she said, adding to the audience, “I hear your pain, and I will be voting against this plan.”

What happened: The Janesville City Council in 2008 approved a seven-year plan to close gaps in the city’s sidewalk system. It delayed implementing the plan until this year because of the poor economy.

This year, the city built 4.7 miles, affecting about 120 property owners—mostly in commercial areas. The owners are assessed the cost of the sidewalk and can either hire the city or private contractors to build the sidewalk. The city charged $27.70 per foot this year.

What’s new: The council on Monday delayed approving Round 2 of the plan that in 2012 would build 5.1 miles of sidewalk, affecting about 200 property owners—mostly residents. Council chambers were filled with unhappy residents, and about 20 people spoke.
What’s next: The council will consider the issue at its next meeting Monday, Oct. 10.

Last updated: 6:15 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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