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Complaints prompt review of sidewalk process

Residents say too much property is being taken

Homeowner Mary Jones watches May 10, 2011, as crews prepare to build a sidewalk in her neighborhood near Johnson C. Smith University. Jones, who said a proposed planting strip is too large, is among Charlotte homeowners who have complained about sidewalk projects. Photo by Tara Ramsey

In Mary Jones’s neighborhood near Johnson C. Smith University, the city of Charlotte is preparing to build a sidewalk. Although some homeowners might be excited about getting such a feature, Jones is not.

This week, as construction crews did prep work on the project, Jones complained about the size of the planting strip being proposed in front of her Irma Street yard and the plans that call for the sidewalk to be 39 feet from her front door.

She said she was told that the size of the strip could not be reduced because of a utility pole in her front yard.

“I’m not happy with the amount of property they want to use,” she said.

The city has heard similar complaints about sidewalks being built in existing neighborhoods. In fact, residents’ complaints about such projects have grown to the point that changes could be coming to the city’s approach.

On Monday, during a City Council dinner briefing, Danny Pleasant, the director of the city’s transportation department, outlined possible policy changes that could lead to more public involvement in the planning of sidewalk projects.

Pleasant said changes to the policy could include holding an initial public meeting for proposed projects and then holding a second public meeting when a project is 30 percent designed. A petition process in which signatures of at least 60 percent of homeowners would be needed to show support for a sidewalk project is also being considered.

Still, Pleasant would have the ultimate “reserved authority” to move ahead with a sidewalk project if the city deems it necessary, according to the proposed policy changes. Heavy traffic, accessibility to transit and pedestrian safety are among factors the city would consider in determining whether a sidewalk is needed in a neighborhood.

Currently, sidewalk-retrofitting projects can take as much as 14 feet of property away from Charlotte homeowners.

City Councilman Patrick Cannon said he was in a neighborhood off LaSalle Street Sunday and was swarmed by a “sea of residents” unhappy with sidewalk projects on Irma and Orvis streets. They complained that mature trees were being destroyed and a planting strip, which is designed to go between the street and sidewalk to increase pedestrian safety, was larger than they expected, he said.

“That’s not right, and it’s not what folks wanted,” he said.

Cannon said he likes the idea of the petition process, saying it will allow the council to see how many property owners are actually supportive of projects. But, he said, the city’s transportation department must do a good job of explaining what a planting strip entails and how far a sidewalk project will encroach into residents’ yards.

Thelma Byers-Bailey, president of the Lincoln Heights Neighborhood Association, is among residents upset with the way the city has handled the construction of sidewalks. One was built this year at the side of her home on St. Luke Street.

“If they told me then what was going to happen, then I wouldn’t be upset now,” she said, adding that at the time she was not aware of how intrusive the sidewalk project would be.

“They said that now it’s too late,” she said.

She said she had to battle the city to get the sidewalk installed on her side of St. Luke Street because if it had been constructed on the opposite side, as originally planned, it would have been very close to her neighbor’s front porch.

“We went through all kinds of resistance, but fortunately we were able to prevail,” she said.

Pleasant told the council Monday that the Charlotte Department of Transportation will re-examine the sidewalk project along Irma and Orvis streets and discuss it again with the residents there. But as of Tuesday, work on the sidewalk project was continuing along Irma Street.

“My inclination is to tell the city to stop doing what they are doing, period,” Cannon said, “and to make sure residents completely understand what it is they will be getting and make sure they understand where these sidewalks and planting strips are really going to occur. The city is not doing it the way it should be done.”

Tara Ramsey can be reached at tara.ramsey@mecktimes.com.

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