Monday, May 10, 2021

Who Should Be Responsible for Sidewalks?

One of the hot topics of discussion around Marco Island in the last several years has centered around sidewalks, and the efforts by the city’s code enforcement personnel to cite property owners if those walkways are found to be falling into disrepair.

Some people would like to lay the blame onto the code enforcement officers for being too aggressive, or onto their supervisors for sending them out looking for these issues. MIPD Captain David Baer, who oversees the code enforcement officers, explained that the officers are only responding to citizens’ complaints, but also jokingly points out that the budget for orange paint has exploded recently.

There has also been an allegation that a group of individuals that have had to pay fines and fix their own sidewalks are the ones behind the increased interest by Code Enforcement.

The truth of the matter is the entire issue has been somewhat confusing for many; city staff, code officers, and of course, residents.

If you are building a new home on Marco, whether it be on a vacant lot, or one which becomes vacant due to the demolition of an existing structure, you are responsible for installing a new sidewalk. If the lots on either side of your new home are vacant, you still must install your section of sidewalk to the standards in place.

The other thing that is sometimes confusing is that the sidewalk is being built on “city property,” yet the homeowner is responsible for its maintenance in perpetuity.

One of the problems lies in the fact that many of those sidewalks were constructed fifteen, twenty or even fifty years ago. The homes may have changed ownership two, three, four or more times.

In an effort to improve the “walkability” around the island, today’s standards on the width of a sidewalk can vary from 4-foot to 8-foot in width, depending on the zoning where the property is located. The cost has therefore been skyrocketing over the years.

A property owner who had recently been cited for problems with her sidewalk came to council to inquire as to whether she could utilize a repair, rather than a replacement of several panels. Discussions were held at that meeting wherein councilors turned to Interim City Manager David Harden to inquire as to his experience.

Harden would comment that many communities, including Delray Beach, had used a “grinding method” to help alleviate trip hazards. Former City Councilor Ken Honecker spoke about a new process wherein the uneven panels have a material pumped under them to bring them into compliance.

Honecker would go on to suggest the city consider taking over the maintenance of sidewalks throughout the island. He pointed out that the city is doing that in several areas already, such as the newly revitalized Collier Boulevard. That would eliminate the appearance of favoritism.

City Councilor Larry Honig suggested at a meeting in July that the city seriously consider assuming the responsibility of repairs to those public ways as they take the 2019-2020 budget into consideration. Citizens would still be responsible for keeping the sidewalks in front of their businesses or residences clear of weeds and any impediments to walking, such as low hanging branches or hedges protruding into the walkways.

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