Building safe sidewalks for children to walk to school — it’s right up there with apple pie, mom, and puppies as “safe” issues politicians can back without controversy.
However, Oberlin city councilman Bryan Burgess wants a concrete guarantee before he gives permission for a sidewalk to be paved in front of his East College Street property as part of the Safe Routes to School program.
Burgess is one of a few property owners who haven’t given approval for the program, according to law director Jon Clark, who said Oberlin will probably have to take the owners to Lorain County Common Pleas Court or probate court to acquire the properties through eminent domain.
That process involves the owners being paid fair market value determined by the courts for the properties.
The city has until February to acquire easements so it can get a $445,581 federal taxpayer grant through the Ohio Department of Transportation to pay for the project, according to Oberlin public works director Jeff Baumann. Construction is scheduled to occur between July and September.
Burgess told fellow council members Nov. 7 that it’s not about the money. He said he’d be willing to take $500 to sign a temporary easement, but wants a 10-year warranty on the sidewalk so he doesn’t have to pay for repairs if it cracks before then.
“I’d like to be sure that the sidewalk being installed is done correctly and will last,” he said. “Contractors I’ve spoken with have assured me that a properly installed sidewalk will last 20 or 30 years.”
Burgess said he doesn’t want a court fight and has received a verbal promise from representatives from Dunrobin Associates, the law firm representing Oberlin, that they city would pay for sidewalk repairs. “Just take that verbal promise and put it in writing and I would happily accept that,” he said.
Clark told council members the city typically only gives one- or two-year warranties because after several years it is difficult to determine whether damage is related to workmanship or wear-and-tear.
Baumann said when warranties have expired, the city determines on a case-by-case basis whether the city or the homeowner must pay for sidewalk repairs.
Safe Routes to Schools is a national program that began in the U.S. in 1997. Besides increasing safety, it’s designed to encourage more children to walk or bicycle to school.
Oberlin first began discussing the project in 2009 and applied for money in 2010.
Councilwoman Sharon Soucy, who was involved in the initial discussions, said it’s been a “long, arduous process” and she’s happy the project is close to beginning.
“Sidewalks are so essential for a sense of community, for a sense of connectedness, (and) for a sense of safety for our kids, which, of course, is what this is all about,” she said.
Evan Goodenow can be reached at 440-775-1611 or @GoodenowNews on Twitter.