Homeowners on the side streets of Prairie Village may be able to opt out of new sidewalks if enough of them sign a petition, under a proposal that will be considered at the City Council meeting Monday.
The idea, worked out by council members Dave Morrison and Ted Odell and city staff Saturday, is meant to address numerous objections to new sidewalks that are being built as streets are resurfaced this year.
The proposal still requires sidewalks on the main thoroughfares, but less-traveled residential streets would skip them if at least 75 percent of property owners signed a petition against them, he said. The signatures would be collected by the city, rather than a homeowner, he said.
The proposal will be considered — and possibly amended — by the whole council Monday before it could become official policy.
The proposal is the latest effort to balance neighbor objections to the expense and aesthetics of sidewalks with walkability and public safety issues. It’s a battle that has been going on since at least 1991, when the city decided to put sidewalks on both sides of busy streets and at school crossings.
The city’s sidewalk policy has been amended numerous times since then, and the council has granted many exemptions to homeowners who objected. The current policy requires a sidewalk on one side of residential streets that don’t have them. The policy requires sidewalks on both sides of main arterial and collector roads, and the proposed policy won’t affect that.
The sidewalks are being installed gradually, as the streets come up for resurfacing. Homeowners face no additional charge for the construction and maintenance, beyond the property taxes they normally pay to the city. They are responsible for scooping snow and ice off the walks, however.
Most recently, the council heard the concerns of around 50 people who turned out at the Aug. 6 meeting. The majority of those people were against construction of sidewalks in front of their homes.
Among them was Casey Housley, who spoke on behalf of many of his neighbors along 68th Street between Roe and Fonticello. Putting a sidewalk in that area would ruin the country look of a street with large lots, long setbacks and no curbs, Housley said.
Since there is little traffic on the street, Housley said neighbors did not see the need for sidewalks. “In these times of tight budgets, we think the money could be better spent elsewhere,” Housley said.
Rick Howell, who lives in the 4700 block of West 68th Street, said a sidewalk really isn’t needed because the traffic is so low. Residents there are quite comfortable with walking and jogging at the side of the street, he said, adding that the additional pavement would be an unnecessary cost to the city to build and maintain.
Other objections came from people concerned about losing part of their yards or removal of trees.
City Administrator Quinn Bennion said all the sidewalk work is to be done within existing city right-of-way.
As a result of the large turnout, the council decided to halt sidewalk construction on Reeds and Outlook streets and to look at writing a better overall sidewalk construction policy. The council delayed deciding about the other streets scheduled to get sidewalks this year and next, including 68th Street. It halted work on Reeds and Outlook because the street improvements there are scheduled to begin soon.
Councilman Charles Clark said he would like to see a sidewalk rule that can be applied consistently and without the constant exemptions the city has given in the past. Too often, he said, the rules are dictated by those who complain loudest.
“It’s never been consistently applied, and that’s my gripe. That’s not good government,” Clark said.
Morrison said the large streets need sidewalks, but understands why people who have gotten along for years without them don’t like the idea of retrofitting their neighborhoods with them. “If there is a certain threshold who overwhelmingly don’t want them, why should you force it on them?” he said.
The city needs to be flexible and responsive to concerns of the citizens, Morrison said. “Nothing affects people more than their front yards.”