Business owners speak out against sidewalk proposal

Published 10:17 am Tuesday, May 6, 2014

The Austin City Council hit a roadblock on its street reconstruction projects Monday after two local businessmen protested the city’s plans to put a sidewalk in on the south side of 17th Avenue Northwest from Fourth to Eighth streets.

Council members originally tabled the issue at its regular meeting Monday but decided on a 4-3 vote, with Mayor Tom Stiehm acting as tiebreaker, to bring the project to their May 19 meeting despite protests from Tom Sherman of Usem, Inc., and Larry Eisenberg of Perkins.

Sherman and Eisenberg tried to dissuade the city from putting in sidewalk on the south side of 17th Avenue as they said it would cause more problems than solutions for the businesses.

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“We would testify to the fact that there is almost no pedestrian traffic out there,” Sherman said.

Eisenberg and Sherman also took issue with the city’s attempts to talk with the businesses about the project. They said they didn’t receive notice of the project until late last week, when the city requested easements from businesses to move utility boxes. Sherman said the proposed sidewalk would negatively affect his business as it would take away space for cars and would be difficult to keep clean in the winter.

City Clerk Ann Kasel said the city had sent out several letters about the project, but the letters went to the owners of the property the businesses sit on, rather than the businesses themselves. She said Public Works Director Steven Lang had gone beyond state statute to inform area businesses of the upcoming project.

In addition, Lang told the council the south side of 17th Avenue had better grading for a sidewalk and would have been easier to put in.

The city would put in the sidewalk as part of a mill and overlay project of Eighth Street from 17th to 18th avenues as well as 17th Avenue Northwest from Fourth to Eighth streets. The project had already been bid on, with Ulland Brothers Inc. offering to complete the project for $167,000, about $15,000 more than Lang’s estimate.

Lang said the project takes advantage of state funding and won’t cost businesses anything. In addition, Hy-Vee will put in sidewalk near its property as part of its upcoming expansion, which will connect with the city’s project. Though Sherman and Eisenberg suggested the city build sidewalk on a nearby service road, Lang said that would cost property owners more money.

“We wouldn’t be able to tap into those state funds if it were built on the service road,” he said.

With Council Member Roger Boughton absent, the council was split on the decision to table and rebid the project without the sidewalk, with Steve King, Janet Anderson and Judy Enright supporting a project rebid and Jeremy Carolan, Michael Jordahl and Jeff Austin in favor of proceeding as planned.

Austin took the council to task for refusing to move forward on sidewalk construction in past projects, such as a proposed sidewalk near Southgate Elementary School in 2012 and a sidewalk as part of construction in the Kaufman Park area this summer.

“Nobody walks out there because there is no sidewalk to walk on,” Austin said of the 17th Avenue Northwest project.

Stiehm ultimately voted against rebidding the project and for bringing the project to the next council meeting for formal approval.

“That area is maturing out there,” he said. “As the area matures, we’re going to need more sidewalk.”

Both Sherman and Eisenberg said they will be at the May 19 meeting to persuade the council to drop the sidewalk.