At a recent meeting, a discussion about adding city sidewalks in a section of southeast Milford at city expense sparked discussion about the city’s current sidewalk code. According to James Puddicombe, City Engineer, areas of the town near New Street were identified as needing sidewalk infill. After discussion with residents in the area, Puddicombe was recommending the city install sidewalks except for in front of two properties where the owners were adamant, they did not want them.
“The contractor that did the sidewalk program is willing to hold their current price from about a year and a half ago for us to do some sidewalk infill,” Puddicombe said. “So what we wanted to do is just present how we identified the area for sidewalk infill briefly and then make our request. About two years ago, we presented to council the Sidewalk Master Plan prioritization list. Within this list here you’ll see the area along New Street was one of the areas identified.”
Puddicombe continued, explaining some of the reasons this area was identified.
“Some of the reasons we identified this area, the school district is currently refabricating or reconstructing a large portion of their building here. This area falls within about 1,700 feet of the school district area,” Puddicombe said. “It’s part of our critical sidewalk area listed on that identification. It’s what we would consider low hanging fruit. There’s already upgraded curb in the entire area. The right of way is about seven foot wider than the curb, meaning we have plenty of room to put five foot sidewalk without impacting private residences. And then the other issue or the other benefit is that Simpsons Crossing is going behind here. And they’re installing sidewalks within that neighborhood.”
Infilling the sections of sidewalk would connect pathways throughout the area. In addition, the school district is required to install a multimodal path along Seabury Avenue and Lakeview Avenue along with a sidewalk on the south side of their property.
“In the last section of the streets program, we installed a little over 600 feet of sidewalk that was missing. For this portion, we talked to the last contractor for the sidewalk program, has agreed to keep the contract open at their last price for a little while longer pending Council’s approval or disapproval of the additional quantities at their current price,” Puddicombe said. “What we’re requesting is to expand that contract quantity with an additional $210,000. This would be to install 1,560 linear feet of sidewalk and would include nine additional ADA ramp replacements or installations. Funding would come from general fund sidewalk infill which was included within the capital plan. And all of this funding falls under the $250,000 that was already included in the capital plan.”
The plan included nine ADA-compliant ramps at the corners of streets as well, Puddicombe explained. He then stated there were two residents who were staunchly opposed to the sidewalk installation which led staff not to propose any sidewalks in front of their property. Councilman Todd Culotta pointed out that the request was not marked for public comment, pointing out that if council was going to accommodate those two property owners, others should have a say in where the sidewalks were installed. Puddicombe stated that notification was made twice to property owners in the area and that there was an in-person meeting at the corner of Elm Street where over 20 people came out to talk about the program. Only the two residents were opposed to sidewalks in front of their house. Councilman Mike Boyle pointed out that this was going in an area where the city had an easement.
“Why would we accommodate?” Councilman Boyle said. “I understand the need to be courteous, but in the grand scheme of things, you’re going to have two holes in the sidewalk, which puts us right back in the position we’re in now. How do you bridge that gap if you’re walking or biking?”
Puddicombe explained that there would be sidewalks on the other side of the street as well as ADA ramps on the corners which would allow walkers or bicyclists to cross and remain on a safe path. Councilman Boyle disagreed with that option, stating that there would be an entire street with sidewalks and then two gaps. Puddicombe stated that there was one other area that did not allow for a sidewalk due to a large tree, but the other sections were due to the refusal of property owners to install the sidewalk in front of their home.
“This is for the benefit of all the residents, local residents,” Councilman Boyle said. “Anybody in town who is walking or biking or pushing a baby carriage along those sidewalks. I get wanting to accommodate, but there’s a bigger issue.”
Mayor Archie Campbell asked if Puddicombe received any feedback other than from the property owners impacted.
“Yes, I did. We had some folks from outside of the direct area actually just a little bit north here on New Street that actually asked us to come up there and put sidewalk in. I think you’re generally correct that folks are actually excited about getting sidewalk put in in general and that they would like it to be put in,” Puddicombe said. “Some of the homeowners neighboring that homeowner will probably be slightly disappointed that it didn’t go in. However, I think that type of a decision would be a council decision and I don’t want to necessarily make that on council’s behalf. And for that reason, I didn’t want to necessarily just make that call. And so,, we figured we would bring it and if council wants to go that route we could reach back out to those homeowners and talk to them or bring information back to council for those additional sidewalk infills if that’s what Council wishes.”
Councilman Dan Marabello asked what reason was given by the two property owners for not wanting sidewalks installed.
“So, the one lady was a little older, probably mid to late 60s. Her concern was just being able to clear it,” Puddicombe said. “The other lady, and honestly, I’m not entirely clear. Initially she wanted us to put a 10-foot multimodal path in her front lawn. And then when she couldn’t have that, she said she didn’t want sidewalk unless she could have the multimodal path. And then she wanted us to remove the curb to put the path in and then she said if she didn’t have that she didn’t want anything so I’m quite honestly not sure.”
Councilman Marabello pointed out that this would be a right-of-way for the city and would then be city property. At that point, Councilman Culotta stated that was not entirely true.
“Well, but it is and it’s not. I mean, it is from a right-of-way standpoint, but it’s not from the responsibility of the owner to maintain it, not just shovel it, but also to maintain maintenance on it in the long term,” Councilman Culotta said. “And so now you’re saying this, and this is fundamentally the problem with our sidewalk policy, is that when we make the homeowner responsible for it, you’re now you’re giving them choices, whereas if we just did it all, we put sidewalks where we wanted that’s an argument for another day, but it kind of gets back to the point of the people that spoke up that didn’t want it.”
Councilman Culotta stated that if he knew he was going to be required to maintain the sidewalk in perpetuity and that he may have difficulty in doing so, he may tell the city not to put sidewalks in either. Councilman Marabello and Councilman Boyle both pointed out that it made no sense to have the two gaps in the sidewalk.
“Just a couple of comments. I do concur with Councilman Boyle’s comment that if we’re going to do the public good, leaving gaps probably isn’t the way to go because if we’re going to set a precedent and wherever we go, we’re gonna have to be accommodating one offs,” Councilman Jason James said. “So, it’s probably not the right way to go.”
Councilman James questioned the funding for the project, but Finance Director Lou Vitola was not at the meeting, so those answers were not clear. Puddicombe stated that the city had applied for grant funds to offset the cost of some of the project.
“Overall, I have no objections to this, but I just have a comment in reference to the sidewalks. I think it’s a great thing that we can put the sidewalks in there and I think it’s a great thing,” Councilwoman Katrina Wilson said. “And I agree with Mr. Boyle in reference to gaps, and it’d be in a safety risk if you don’t fill it. And, the other thing is, I’m really on the fence because there’s so many of our residents that had to pay money, make payment plans, having the balances put on their taxes, because they had to fill in some gaps and cracks and you know it within our sidewalks and yet we can do a project like this, whether they can afford it or not. Just I don’t like that part.”
Councilman Culotta agreed while Councilman James wanted to make the delineation between sidewalk repair and maintenance vs. infill. City Manager Mark Whitfield explained that there were exceptions made years ago when property owners did not want sidewalks. He stated that council had the ability to change its mind and decide where sidewalks would or would not go regardless of property owner preference. He wanted to make it clear, however, that once the sidewalk was installed, whether paid for by the city or not, it became the responsibility of the property owner as far as repairs, maintenance and safety.
“Which is what we required, what we’ve moved forward with. Previously, it was not infill that was repair and maintenance,” Councilman James said. “Although I think it’s well known that I would prefer that the city took care of repair and maintenance, but I think I do understand you from a funding perspective. Or at least it was asserted, and I’m not saying it’s not true, that did we take on the responsibility to repair and maintenance. We’re not the only ones that require it because many different cities were researched, and they do. So when it came up, many cities do different things, but if the city of Milford were to take on the repairs maintenance, were taking on the responsibility for shoveling the snow and all the like and is that practical? Can that really happen?”
Mayor Archie Campbell stated that it was not possible for the city to clear snow and ice from every sidewalk.
“Okay, there’s a couple of things at play there. I agree that this is kind of a windfall for people that don’t have sidewalks that we’re now requiring to put it in there,” Councilman Culotta said. “So, it does benefit them but that also hurts the people that, to Katrina’s point, were told these areas need to be repaired. This is the cost if you want to do it, great. If not, we’ll do it. And so that’s not really fair in that respect. I mean, I think it’s always to be assumed that once the sidewalk is in front of you, you’re responsible for maintaining it from an accessibility standpoint, bad weather or whatnot. But I think the bigger question here is, where’s that delineation back to, and yes, we can say, well, this is patch and repair, and this is infill, but now we’re getting technical. I would be curious, Mark, for future reference, and this is a question for you and Lou. What was the total billed amount or total cost to the private homeowner, not any work that we did, or, or anything that we had to do from a city standpoint, but what was the total amount billed or estimated to all the homeowners that had to address their sidewalks?”
Councilman James wanted it clear to those in attendance at the meeting that council was talking about two different things. He pointed out that Councilman Culotta was asking for the total amount citizens paid for repairs of sidewalks during the sidewalk program and not about installed sidewalks designed to address gaps. Councilman Culotta stated that council was talking about two different things, but that the two issues were related. He did not feel the city had the right to force a property owner to install a sidewalk and then require them to perform all maintenance.
“It’s a bit of an apples and oranges comparison. I mean, most people expect that they buy a house there is going to be a sidewalk there. In the past the city made a decision not to put it in and now they’re trying to correct it,” Councilman Boyle said. “I don’t see that it’s a problem. People that are getting this again, when they get it, they assume the full responsibility for repair and maintenance over the years. It’s going to come back in 20 or 30 years, we’ll have the same discussion. There’s a crack in the sidewalk. Why do I have to fix it?” Councilman Andy Fulton pointed out that discussing gaps and infill led to a big pink building on Northeast Front Street a few years ago.
Puddicombe told council that property owners spent $210,750 during the sidewalk program.
“So back to the point, if it was $5 million, it’d be one thing but for 200 grand, you’d say okay, the city will take care of it,” Councilman Culotta said. “And going forward, the city will be responsible for all sidewalks construction, and maintenance, not accessibility with weather and stuff. I just think and then in this scenario, we’re going to put sidewalks where we say we want to put them.”
Mayor Archie Campbell did not feel the city should be paying for the repair of sidewalks.
“Well, I don’t care if you don’t agree with my point,” Councilman Culotta said. “If we dig ourselves into a corner with this situation here, because if I’m a homeowner and just paid a couple of thousand fixing the sidewalks and then I know my friends are getting them for nothing. Or complain when the state comes in and does a road and takes care of the sidewalks, we have no control over that.”
Councilman James felt it would be best if discussion about sidewalk repair and maintenance be brought to a workshop in the future so council can express their opinions on how to address the problem.
“That would open the floor up for council’s proposals for changes in the code. Not that it would happen, but open it for discussion, because that’s different from what we’re talking about right now,” Councilman James said. “We’re talking about infill and so I just want to make sure that that’s something that has to be discussed at a council level, other than we’re discussing right here, because we’re not going to solve that because we can’t sit here and arbitrarily change code. That takes time and solutions.”
Councilman Boyle made a motion to authorize Jaquez Concrete to fill in 15,160 feet of sidewalk at a cost of $210,000 and that the sidewalk is not interrupted by gaps. Councilman Marabello seconded the motion. Because there was some confusion on the number of yes and no votes, Mayor Campbell took a roll call. Councilmen Boyle and Marabello voted yes for the motion.
“Okay, I’m looking at this and I’m just thinking about this and the way the motion is,” Councilman Fulton said. “It will not meet the requirements of those. Does the 1,560 include the gaps and if it doesn’t, then this motion will not actually infill those gaps. It’s just added unfunded requirement that we’re putting in, so I vote no, it’s included in the motion but not in the money or the feet. So, for that reason, I say nay.”
Councilman Brian Baer voted yes while Councilwoman Nirmala Samaroo voted no. In light of Councilman Fulton’s comments, Councilman James changed his initial yes vote to a no.
“Based on the same information from Councilman James and Councilman Fulton,” Councilwoman Wilson said. “Plus, we would need to give feedback to those two property owners before we go forward, so I vote no.”
The motion failed to pass with a vote of five to three. Councilman James asked if they could make a second motion. Whitfield asked that the vote be delayed until the October 13 meeting so staff could gather more information for council.
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