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Janesville City Council delays 2012 sidewalk plan

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MARCIA A. NELESEN
May 1, 2012
— The Janesville City Council on Monday delayed the 2012 sidewalk program, giving a committee 60 days to report back with recommendations on which sidewalks should and should not be built.

That same committee will report back in September on its recommendations for the 2013 program and then again by March 2013 for the remainder of the program, which ends in 2017.


The council directed City Manager Eric Levitt to recommend who will be on the committee.


The vote to delay the sidewalk program was 6-1, with council President Kathy Voskuil casting the dissenting vote.


The decision was made about 1 a.m. Tuesday after three hours of public testimony.


The council in 2008 created a seven-year plan to build 63 miles of sidewalk. It delayed implementing the plan for two years because of the economy.


The special meeting Monday was called after new council members reopened what several others called a "can of worms" when they brought the program back to the council. The numbers of residents who spoke at the meeting—64—had to set some sort of record.


Then again, the meeting did concern sidewalks—and not just one year of sidewalk, but also six years of a seven-year program.


People were seated in every chair in council chambers; they crowded both doors and filled a room next door. Speakers generally were civil, although several spoke angrily. The majority spoke against sidewalks, although a handful spoke in favor—including several blind residents.


Most who were present would be assessed for sidewalks if they were installed.


The litany of complaints against the sidewalk program was the same as others heard every year. Many who spoke said they were unaware until recently that they were even on the program.


Three residents spoke in succession to finish a statement from Jim Fowler, who helped form the Committee for Sensible Sidewalks. That group sent mailings to every resident on the program plan and also endorsed candidates for council in the April 3 election.


Fowler contended the council never followed its policy because it did not notify every resident on the seven-year plan when it voted on the issue in 2008.


Instead, the council published the plan to give residents ample time to save money for the project. It also notifies those on each individual year's plan months before work begins, and public hearings are required because the city assesses the residents for the cost of sidewalks.


Jim Fowler's wife, Susan, said the current project map is one of mysterious origins. She contended the plan was produced at "some point by a city planner who came to work and decided the city needed more sidewalks," she said.


Staff earlier had said the map was a culmination of many years of neighborhood plans.


Don Marklein said he developed many properties and he only recalled on one occasion when city staff had him put sidewalk on one side a street in Wuthering Hills.


"Now I understand they want it on the other side," he said.


Speakers said developers or home sellers promised them there would never be sidewalks on their streets, and they purchased their properties specifically for that reason.


Some talked about the environment.


Dan Woodman said the plan calls for acres of impermeable surface that will increase runoff, which seems counterproductive to saving the environment at a time when the state has put restrictions on communities for storm water runoff.


Others worried about losing trees and shrubbery, while still others questioned the fairness of choosing one side of the street over the other.


Fay Fugate, 835 N. Osborn, said she raised eight children and that they and others in the neighborhood never had problems walking to school without sidewalks. After 54 years, she said she didn't see any reason to have a sidewalk, especially since she is on a fixed income.


Andy Owens, 432 Waveland Road, said all taxpayers should pay for sidewalk if it is for the good of all, while Richard Frank said those without sidewalks should be taxed to take care of sidewalks of those who have them.


Pat McDonald, 435 Grove St., said he likes sidewalks, and he's glad they are in his neighborhood. When he walks to work he sees children walking to school.


"Children do walk to school," he said. "Some children do not have the luxury of being driven to school."


McDonald said he came to the meeting because he was watching TV and heard one speaker comment that handicapped people can live wherever they want.


The handicapped, the elderly and children need sidewalk," he said. "Every citizen in Janesville has a right to walk safely in every neighborhood in this great city."


Councilman Jim Farrell said, "I'm sensing people made choices not to have sidewalk. I think they were made in good faith.


"I don't want to point fingers at former councils, but I don't see a lot of participation from citizens," he said, asking for a committee to study future sidewalks.


Councilman Russ Steeber spoke of the inequity caused because some people on the sidewalk program already have had them installed. He said the city could lose money if it breaks its contract.


Councilwoman Deb Dongarra-Adams said she is not in favor of the plan, although she is for sidewalks in some areas.


Councilman Matt Kealy said the majority of people he talked to who are against the plan said they are in favor of some sidewalks, just not on their streets.


He said any future program likely would affect some of the people in the room.



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