One of the main ingredients for the downtown business community in presenting a better face to the world was discussed by the city's planning commission this week ... sidewalks.
>Workers prepare the foundation for a new sign announcing the location of Checker's Espresso. Located on the corner of Third St. and Meadow Lakes Drive, the corner is without sidewalks, an issue that could be taken care of, the property owner says.
The topic was brought up when the question of whether the planners should begin working on a city-wide sidewalk policy and if so, when that policy should be instituted. Planning Director Dick Brown said that at the present time, city ordinance calls for sidewalks on one side of the street in some new residential developments, or commercially when upgrading from one use to another.
"We try to apply the ordinances equitably," Brown explained, "but small town politics being what they are, this hasn't always happened."
A major factor that has to be addressed are requirements mandated under the American Disabilities Act. Under city ordinances, the owner of the property abutting the sidewalk is responsible for that sidewalk in front of his business or residence. Many of the sidewalks don't meet ADA standards. Everyone is aware of the ADA deficiencies, the planning director explained, "and we (the city) are as liable as the owner."
As part of the effort to protect the city from lawsuits, an inventory of the sidewalks in the downtown business core area is done every year.
Public works coordinator Ron Kleinschmit said the inventory has been completed, and showed significant deficiencies. "This," Kleinschmit added, "is not a popular subject with the city council."
Bringing the talk back to the original question, commissioner Jim McMillan asked about a policy on sidewalks, "What do we want? Do we require sidewalks in all circumstances?"
He went on to suggest getting the Chamber of Commerce's Our Town Committee involved in the development of a policy. "We should work with the property owners and the Our Town Committee to see what can be done. Sidewalks are not cheap."
Local attorney Jim Van Voorhies, commented on one aspect of the present sidewalk ordinance. "I don't see the change of use of a property reason for a new, upgraded sidewalk. That could be stopping business coming to downtown. Maybe this isn't the time, with the economy the way it is," he suggested.
There are areas that are in terrible shape, Van Voorhies went on to say. "Maybe the best thing is to step back and see how the city thinks should be done. I think the city should set the standard and make it apply to everyone.
Don Krider identified himself as the owner of the lot on the corner of Meadow Lakes Drive and W. Third Street. Prineville, he said, has terrible sidewalks. "Sidewalks are important to the community and we have the worst sidewalks in central Oregon. Some sort of a standard is needed. Now, there is no uniformity. You've got 12-foot sidewalks, 10-foot sidewalks and some 8-foot sidewalks."
Kleinschmit responded by explaining that a standard 12-foot sidewalk doesn't always mean 12 feet of concrete. "It can include planting strips," he said.
Krider, not easily swayed, explained that he owned the corner where Checkers Espresso is located. The city has mandated that sidewalk be built along Meadow Lakes Drive and along Third Street, in front of the lot. Until Checkers replaced the previous espresso stand, Krider said, there had been no pressure to rebuild or repair that corner.
And how about other places, he asked - the stretch between the Friends espresso and the car wash, "there is nothing there except weeds - or the corner one of the council members owns (Picture This, corner of Third and Beaver streets), that business just sold recently." Why, Krider asked, don't these property owners being forced into upgrading or installing sidewalk?
That led to another issue Krider wanted to talk about. That is what he called, "selective enforcement. The city recently put in sidewalks at the Vets' Club on Main Street at city expense so they can do an overlay on Main. Does that mean I can wait and sooner or later the city will put in my sidewalks? That sends the wrong message."
Krider said he is ready to put in sidewalks, curbs and gutters for his property, but only when a set of standards are developed. "I'll put in the sidewalk in a heartbeat," he declared, "but not until there is some sort of standard."
Planning Commission chair, Bill Gowen agreed that a policy is needed that required everybody's compliance, "or there's never anything going to happen. We already have a standard, it just hasn't been enforced."
Commissioner Marty Bailey agreed, but warned, "we have tried to get things before the council and nothing came from it in the past."
In order to provoke something to happen, Brown suggested that he draft something for the commission's first meeting in June. "I guarantee this isn't gong to be a look hole that says if you can't afford it, fine."
Accepting Brown's proposal, Gowen pointed out that the local economy shouldn't be a factor. "It isn)t an economic thing, because nothing was done when the economy was good."
The proposed policy will be discussed by the planners and once they reach a consensus, the final draft will be sent on to the city council for adoption.