Lawrence City Commission to consider changes to how city manages sidewalk repair requirements
photo by: Nick Krug
City leaders will soon discuss changes to its sidewalk repair policy, which garnered strong opposition when initiated this spring in northwest Lawrence.
As part of its work session Tuesday, the Lawrence City Commission will provide feedback to city staff on the administrative policy regarding sidewalk repairs, which are the responsibility of the adjacent property owner under city ordinance. The ordinance has been on the books for decades, but the city did not strictly enforce it until this spring. The ordinance was enforced using a process laid out in the policy, which was created last year.
Earlier this spring, about 250 homeowners in northwest Lawrence got a letter from the city telling them to fix their sidewalks or else have them condemned and fixed by the city at their expense. After receiving the letters, many homeowners objected to the city’s requirement that they pay for repairs to sidewalks that were one city property and also voiced concerns about how the city enforced those requirements. Those concerns included the lack of a clear appeal process, a complicated process for opting into using the city contractor, and unclear definitions regarding which sidewalk defects required repairs, among other concerns.
Based on feedback from neighbors and the commission, staff came up with a list of potential changes to the policy. The proposed changes do not change the city’s rule that property owners — both residential and commercial — are responsible for paying for sidewalk repairs, but does attempt to address some of the concerns raised by northwest Lawrence residents.
A summary of some of the proposed changes are as follows. The full list is available on the city’s website.
Program phasing: The policy divided the city into eight regions with the intention of addressing one area each year. Staff states that addressing such large areas was challenging, and recommends focusing on smaller sub-sections of the eight regions going forward to improve staff’s ability to predict and manage costs as well as communicate effectively with property owners.
Communication with residents: Staff recommends that informational neighborhood meetings be held before conducting the initial sidewalk condition inspection. At the time sidewalk hazards are identified and marked with paint, the adjacent properties will be provided door hangers that include a copy of the inspection report and an information brochure about the program, including contact information for city staff.
Inspection criteria: Staff recommends clarifying the criteria used to evaluate sidewalk conditions. Staff states any defects deemed a hazard should be measurable or visually observable in order to be documented in an inspection report.
Notifications to property owners: After inspections are conducted in the fall, staff recommends that, in addition to the informational door hangers, written notices be provided to the property owner no later than Jan. 1. The written notice will include a copy of the inspection report, information about the program (including contact information), information about the property owner’s responsibility to repair the identified hazard(s), information about how to appeal the inspection, and how property owners can request that the city make the repairs. A second notice will be mailed no later than Feb. 1.
Time to repair sidewalk hazards: City staff recommends that property owners have until the last day of April to repair any identified hazards. The city or its contractor will repair any hazards not repaired, inspected and accepted by the city by that point.
Appeal of inspection findings: City staff recommends that property owners wishing to appeal the determination of the sidewalk inspection have 20 days from the postdate of the written notice to do so. An appeal officer designated by the city manager will consider appeals administratively and make a decision within 14 days or at the soonest possible date. Inspection criteria detailed in the policy will be used to consider and decide upon the appeal.
Repairs performed by the city: City staff recommends that the city perform repairs for property owners who request the city to perform repairs on their behalf or who do not perform the repairs prior to the last day of April. City staff will prepare a bid package and conduct a pre-bid meeting with qualified contractors to ensure a well-organized bid package, favorable pricing and organized project management.
City contract pricing: City staff recommends property owners wishing to obtain the city’s pricing simply allow the city to perform the work on their behalf. The city will include all participating properties in one bid once the deadline for property owners to perform their own repairs passes. The city should manage the contractor as part of one comprehensive project in order to simplify matters for the contractor, the property owners and the city.
Administrative and overhead costs: The current policy assesses a 10% administrative fee to property owners who do not complete repairs on their own or request the city to complete the repairs on their behalf. City staff recommends budgeting for all program administrative and overhead costs through the annual budget and no longer assessing the 10% administrative fee.
The City Commission will convene at 5:45 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall, 6 E. Sixth St.