Consider this. A group of business people want the city to construct a parking lot that will benefit many businesses. So the city builds it. A neighborhood group wants the city to build a park so their children will have a safe place to play. So the city builds it. A developer wants to build a new neighborhood and needs a new road to get you there. So the city builds it. While these all seem like examples of good cooperation between city leaders and the community, they can also lead to a very haphazard city where poor planning creates more problems than it solves.
So, for reasons like these, municipalities employ city planners. Well-run municipalities have comprehensive plans, with ideas and assertions about how the city should grow.
Now consider our recent (and seemingly annual) discussions about building new sidewalks in De Pere. As new developments and neighborhoods are built, as new destinations like schools and parks are built, as funds become available to support our plan, we must constantly be looking at our sidewalks, and making sure that we are providing facilities that allow us to walk to our destinations. And even without a particular destination in mind, we must still have sidewalks that provide the means to go for a family stroll, or take the dog for a walk in a safe manner.
At our November 18, 2014 city council meeting, we discussed issues related to building new sidewalks on Lawrence Drive. Lawrence Drive is home to our (relatively) new Southwest Park. If you think back a few years to when the park was in the planning stage, it stands to reason that along with planning for the ball diamonds, soccer fields, and playgrounds, that we also considered access to the park. This means including things like parking lots and sidewalks.
So when we decide to build a 95 acre park like Southwest Park, we’ve got to agree as a community that the surrounding neighborhoods will have sidewalk access to the park. And this has to be agreed upon without consideration for any particular dissenting homeowner. It sounds harsh, but the only way that this can work is if all properties have sidewalks. Consider this photo, which shows what happens to accessibility when one particular lot is allowed to not have a sidewalk. As you can imagine, this situation is even worse in the winter months.
Consider also our 2010 Comprehensive Plan Update, which mentions the word “sidewalk” 118 times, and the word “pedestrian” 340 times. If you’re a De Pere resident, and you perfer to live in a city that does not put a focus sidewalks and pedestrian safety, then you’re living in the wrong city.
So, we need sidewalks. The crux of the issue seems to be in deciding who pays for the sidewalk. Here in De Pere, that responsibility lies with the property owner. My own home was built in 1974 and the developer built the sidewalk at the same time as the house. So the burden is on the property owner, plain and simple.
Back to our recent city council meeting, where we discussed new sidewalks on Lawrence Drive. Some property owners feel they don’t need a sidewalk in front of their house, they don’t want a sidewalk in front of their house, and therefore they certainly shouldn’t have to pay for a sidewalk in front of their house. In our discussion, Ald. Rafferty asked a simple question, “So, are we forcing these property owners to sell us their land so we can put in sidewalks that they don’t want?” And the simple answer to that is “yes”. But it’s not just a flippant “yes”. This is part of a well thought out plan. These are the kinds of projects that we need when we choose to live in a city like De Pere. Allowing one homeowner to dissent creates situations like that in the previously mentioned photo.
When a member of city staff tells a homeowner that they must put in a sidewalk, don’t misunderstand the directive. This isn’t a rogue staff member making a decision on their own. This is a conscientious staff member respecting our city’s comprehensive plan, which was developed with much thought and effort and approved by the city council, your elected leaders.
If you disagree, I’d like to offer a suggestion. Since these actions and projects are all part of a larger plan, don’t wait until we’re ready to implement them to share your feedback. Look through our comprehensive plan today. See the locations where we’re planning to build roads and sidewalks. Read about all the great plans we have for the growth of our city. And if you see something you don’t like, then bring it to the council and let’s talk about it in terms of the plan. Protesting it at the point of implementation is too late.