Atlanta City Council to Consider Changes to Existing Sidewalk Policy

DSC_0009By: Peggy Berg, VHCA Safety Chair

Nine Atlanta City Council members are co-sponsoring legislation to remove a city ordinance that requires homeowners to pay to repair sidewalk abutting their property. This legislation will be considered at the July 15 meeting of the City Utilities Committee, 9:30 am, Committee Room #2 on the second floor of City Hall, located at 55 Trinity Street. Click here to view a copy of the proposed legislation.

Enacting this law will put the City on a course to provide safe pedestrian access around Atlanta and to manage the sidewalk system on a large-scale, cost-effective basis. It will remove from homeowners and contractors the necessity of meeting an array of legal and permitting burdens that the city either does not face or routinely handles in the process of everyday governance. These include, among others, negotiating with the Parks Department about tree impacts in the adjacent sidewalk strips, and bonding and permitting requirements that make fixing individual sidewalks one at a time expensive and time-consuming.

The City daily manages such intergovernmental challenges in streets, parks, sewers, and safety; its Public Works Department already has the professional capability to handle sidewalks. With steady funding, it is realistic to think we can have a sidewalk system that is significantly better and continuing to improve within ten years. Next year’s contemplated City of Atlanta infrastructure bond would provide a great funding start to catching up on deteriorated sidewalks.

A few residents have asked if the proposed ordinance means we spent money unnecessarily in the Virginia-Highland sidewalk bundle. We emphatically believe that our sidewalk program is and has been a very good deal. Here’s why:

  • This proposed ordinance must work its way through the city’s legislative system before becoming reality, and it is unclear how long that might take. In the meantime, adjoining property owners are still responsible for making sidewalk repairs.
  • The City of Atlanta 2015 budget has been adopted and includes no budget for sidewalk maintenance. Changing the provisions about who is responsible for sidewalks does not itself fund sidewalk repairs like those we are doing in Virginia-Highland. Because of the bundle, the participating properties in Virginia-Highland are fixed now, a huge benefit in our pedestrian-oriented neighborhood.
  • If the City funds a program of sidewalk maintenance, it should do repairs based on a clear priority system. For instance, high-traffic sidewalks and those around hospitals, schools, transit stations, etc. would theoretically be high priority and repaired first.  Sidewalks on tertiary streets like ours may well have a low priority. Realistically, it could take some years to repair lower priority sidewalks.
  • Property owners who want safe, usable sidewalks were able to have the necessary work done at a below-market price through the bundles the VHCA has coordinated. In addition, property owners did not have to deal with contracting or permitting the work in the bundles.

For property owners who want to have good sidewalks, we think the bundle was a very good deal. We hope you do as well. Thank you to the property owners who paid for improvements and enhanced Virginia-Highland for all of us and our visitors.

Anyone interested in learning more or providing input is encouraged to attend the July 15 meeting at City Hall.  The VHCA will be there.

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