The issue of sidewalks, who owns them, when they should be installed and who should maintain them on and around Marco Island has been a hot topic for several years. In the last twelve months the issue concerning who maintains those existing sidewalks has been the focus of considerable discussion.
Former Public Works Director Rony Joel had become a target of scorn by some after having received a citation for an uneven sidewalk. Joel, an avid walker, would notice that many other areas of sidewalks were also in what the City Code would describe as “in disrepair.” The numbers of reports regarding poorly maintained sidewalks would begin to skyrocket during the last year, with residents appearing before the city council, asking for what many believed was an uneven approach to the issue.
Today, a homeowner or business is responsible for maintaining those sidewalks in the right of way in front of their addresses, but do not have ownership or control of those areas.
At a council meeting in September of 2018, Councilor Larry Honig would comment on the idea of residents roaming around the island reporting on other residents; “Do we really want our citizens engaging in this type of activity,” said Honig, in response to some of the tensions being raised regarding this issue and enforcement of the City Code.
Human Side of the Issue
On November 3, the issue of “maintenance of sidewalks,” would no longer become just a “policy debate,” but would become a “human issue,” when Barbara Rich tripped on the seam of an uneven sidewalk on the east side of North Collier Boulevard in the vicinity of Milan Court.
She sustained facial fractures and neck and shoulder injuries as a result of her serious fall. “I was at our home here on Marco and my husband was away. I was never in so much pain in my life and the discomfort continues to this day,” said Rich.
“I attempted to get up several times, when I finally did get back to my feet, I would make my way home. I guess it was just a natural instinct to seek out a safe place. I was bleeding and in serious pain. I would drive myself to Urgent Care; I didn’t want to bother anyone, but staff there would contact my daughter, who would reach out to other members of my family on the island who would come to be with me at the Urgent Care facility.
“My husband would fly back the next day and we would be referred to the Bascom-Palmer Eye Institute in Miami for an immediate evaluation,” said Rich. “They consider it a miracle I didn’t lose my eye,” said an emotional Rich.
In March of 2019, resident Ken Honecker came forward during public comment and suggested that council consider continuing the process which required a newly constructed home to build the sidewalk as they do now, utilizing the established standards regarding width and material, all of this as part of the impact fee to build a home. The owner would then turn the sidewalk over to city and it would be the city’s responsibility to maintain that capital improvement within the right-of-way.
The city would be able to then utilize any process they desired, to do the repair in-house or to keep a vendor of their choice on hand to facilitate the repairs.
At the present time, the city already maintains those sidewalks which they have installed under the “bike-path programs.” Those monies were received from FDOT. (The city is required to contribute matching funds.) In addition to that, they maintain the “mixed-use pathways” installed along Collier Boulevard when that work was done during the reconstruction of Collier Boulevard.
Another point that was made regarding the failure of those areas that had work done during the STRP programs by the city’s contractor. This was where sidewalks were cut to allow lateral lines to be run to homes and not properly compacted, which eventually caused issues with those sidewalks.
Fast Forward to October
Newly appointed City Manager Michael McNees would come back to council with possible solutions at an early October 2019 council meeting as a follow up. He would bring back a cafeteria list of options for council consideration. That list would include the following:
- Maintain the status-quo.
- Have the city pre-qualify vendors for property owners with agreed upon costs per linear foot.
- City do improvements and then have costs assessed to the owner over a 3-5-year period of time.
- City take over sidewalks completely.
Councilors once again did not feel they had adequate information.
Councilor Charlette Roman believed that more discussion and planning was needed before the city could take over the maintenance of sidewalks. She would prefer looking at options two or three prior to the city moving into assuming full responsibility for their maintenance.
Councilor Jared Grifoni suggested that if the city was to take over, it should be a referendum issue to have the city’s property owners approve. That process could take close to a year.
Councilor Honig however, would draw the comparison of paving roads in front of a home to the maintenance of the sidewalks. “We should budget for this,” said Honig. He would again suggest reducing Code Enforcement back to the 2016 budget levels to cover the expenses of dealing with this issue at the October meeting.
The Rich’s both hope they will not have to wait years to see a resolution to this long simmering issue, as she awaits future medical procedures to help with her healing process.