10/24/12 — Sidewalk policy under scrutiny

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Sidewalk policy under scrutiny

By Ty Johnson
Published in News on October 24, 2012 1:46 PM

Sidewalk construction again emerged as a contentious topic at the Goldsboro City Council meeting earlier this month as council members continue to wrestle with a site plan modification request from an area church that carries a sidewalk construction requirement.

St. Mark Church of Christ on West Ash Street requested in September that its site plan modification, which would involve installing a vestibule and canopy, be approved and that all of the sidewalk requirements be waived.

According to a city ordinance enacted in 2005, sidewalk installation is required in the following instances: a newly constructed building, an expansion that increase a building or parking area's size by more than 50 percent, repairs or renovations collectively costing more than 50 percent of the tax value of a property, a change in use and the reopening of properties that have been closed for longer than one year.

An amendment to that ordinance in 2007 allowed for a fee to be paid in lieu of sidewalk installation. Although applicants can request to have the requirement waived and pay the fee instead, or to have the fee itself waived, the final decision comes at the discretion of the City Council.

That ordinance could be amended again since spats concerning the St. Mark site plan have delayed its approval by at least a month as council members have questioned the city's sidewalk plan in each of three previous council meetings.

Councilman William Goodman has led the charge, first by removing the church's site plan request from the consent agenda, where the Planning Commission recommendation was that the church pay a portion of its required sidewalk fee.

Goodman then motioned that the plan be approved with all of the requested waivers in place, reducing the church's sidewalk payment to nothing, although he withdrew his motion in exchange for a reconsideration of the city's sidewalk policies.

Estimates show that sidewalk installation is generally $25 per lineal foot, while the sidewalk fee is $15 per lineal foot.

The fees are aggregated into a budget line item referred to colloquially as the sidewalk fund, which is used to construct sidewalk in areas identified as priorities in the city's sidewalk plan.

The current plan, one put together in 2009, calls for sidewalk to be installed along Harris, John and Elm streets, Berkeley Boulevard, Spence and Royall avenues and Central Heights Road although the estimated cost to construct all of those sidewalks would be more than $1.35 million.

The sidewalk fund currently contains $39,508.

With 647 feet of frontage on West Ash Street and 564 feet of frontage on West Mulberry Street, St. Mark would be required to install about 1,100 lineal feet of sidewalk once driveways were removed from the total. At an estimated $25 per lineal foot, that would mean a bill of about $27,500.

If the council asked church to pay the sidewalk fee in lieu only for its street frontage, at $15 per lineal foot, the church would be on the hook for about $16,500.

The Planning Commission's recommendation, however, was that the church pay only the fee in lieu for its frontage on West Mulberry Street, about $7,500.

Fees paid don't necessarily mean that a property will eventually receive sidewalk along its frontage, however, as the city is aiming to install sidewalk only where the pedestrian amenities are a priority.

Goodman said that for a business to pay a fee for sidewalks and not have it installed would be "very insulting."

City Manager Scott Stevens informed Goodman, who was not on the council when the sidewalk plan or Unified Development Ordinance were adopted, that had been the policy the city was operating under since the fee option was included in the ordinance.

Rather than redefine the way the money is used, council members seemed more interested in limiting the cases whereby sidewalk installation or the fee in lieu is required.

Mayor Pro Tempore Chuck Allen and District 2 Councilman Bill Broadaway said they felt the city received the most resistance from renovations of old buildings, with Broadaway saying that the city should be as business friendly as possible.

Planning Director Randy Guthrie was charged with putting together options on the ordinance, most specifically to exclude businesses that have been closed for more than a year and to move toward sidewalk requirements tied more to the city's sidewalk map and new construction.