For a number of years now, the issue of who should maintain public sidewalks outside city residences around the island has been a hotly contested discussion every time it has been brought up.
When new homes are constructed, it is the responsibility of the owner to install sidewalks that adhere to the standards in place at the time of construction. Presently, five-foot-wide, ADA-compliant sidewalks are the standard in those areas where they are required.
Several councilors have questioned why roadways and sidewalks have been treated differently. Over a year ago, then Council Chair Eric Brechnitz questioned that practice. “Homeowners don’t pay separately for the roadways in front of their residences. I am not sure of the rationale for treating sidewalks in a different manner. They’ve installed them to city standards, and they have been accepted as meeting our standards. It makes no sense to me,” said Brechnitz in a discussion dealing with sidewalk maintenance.
Pedestrian sidewalks by code are to be at least five feet in width. Multiple use pedestrian and bicycle sidewalks at any location, and pedestrian sidewalks at commercial land use locations, must be constructed with a minimum width of eight feet. In the downtown district, all off-roadway pedestrian and bike use facilities must be a minimum width of 10 feet.
Repairs to existing sidewalks trigger the requirement that they be brought up to the newer more stringent standards, sometimes creating a confused mixture of varying widths and what some homeowners complain are unfair financial hardships.
Over the years, the city has installed some sidewalks from grant funding, or as part of improvements done along roadways such as Collier Boulevard. As a result, the city has assumed responsibility for the maintenance of those walkways in perpetuity, costing abutting homeowners nothing. An example is the recent sidewalk project along San Marco Road which began at the intersection of Barfield Drive, and eventually will extend to the intersection of Goodland Drive. While homes on one side of that busy roadway will pay nothing for maintenance, homeowners on the opposite side of the roadway must pay for repairs.
Another example is along North Collier Boulevard from Rose Court to the Jolley Bridge. Perpetual maintenance on that substantial segment of sidewalk will be the responsibility of the city.
At the March 1 City Council meeting, city staff presented a report on the issue which essentially was a recap of where the issue was a year ago. They mirrored the four possible alternatives that have been discussed over the last several years:
- Maintain the status quo of the last 23 years – property owner responsibility.
- Enhanced homeowner financial assistance.
- City funded improvements with assessment back to homeowner.
- Centralized city maintenance of sidewalks.
The City of Naples presently has one person assigned to overseeing repairs to public walkways. That person monitors the condition of sidewalks and contracts are obtained to make needed repairs. Naples has only about 40 miles of sidewalks, while Marco has approximately 240 miles.
Staff recommended that all sidewalks within the city have necessary repairs done prior to any assumption of responsibility by the city. Staff also proposed that the city develop procedures for sidewalk inspections and “acceptance” while creating an inventory of the sidewalks.
Councilor Blonna commented that he was more concerned with seeing vacant lots addressed for completion of the sidewalk network around the city.
Some on council questioned whether or not the numbers quoted might be able to be improved.
The City Attorney and City Manager also questioned whether or not the numbers regarding repairs might skyrocket should the city take over that responsibility, versus the present-day scenario under which only those cited for necessary repairs made up the inventory of required repairs.
Staff will continue to bring forward options for the council.