A total of 150 letters have been sent out to property owners in the City of Decorah which tell them they have until August 1st of next year to build or repair a sidewalk in front of their property.
Previously, city officials had discussed tackling sidewalk issues one city ward at a time. City Administrator Chad Bird says City Street Superintendent Kevin Nelson suggested a different system—one with five circles that started in downtown Decorah and worked their way out to the city limits. Nelson said such a system would make sure sidewalks were interconnected.
City Street Department workers then looked at sidewalks at 557 addresses within the downtown circle—plus 57 properties in the Bruening Addition. Letters asking for sidewalk repairs to be made were sent to 63 addresses, while another 30 letters were sent to property owners where there were no sidewalks. All 57 Bruening Addition property owners received letters, since their properties did not have sidewalks.
Bird says the first step for any property owner who has gotten a letter from the City of Decorah is to contact a local sidewalk contractor to discuss costs and specifications. In some cases, variances will be needed because of fire hydrants or other obstacles.
Property owners who do not have a sidewalk on their property—87 of those who have been sent letters—have the ability to appeal the city's requirement. They would need to write a letter to the City of Decorah, so their request could officially be reviewed by the city's Planning & Zoning Commission and City Council.
The letter sent by the city to 150 property owners says if they do not build or repair their sidewalk by August 1st, "the city will install the sidewalk and you will be assessed for the cost of construction and installation." A special assessment would be added to the owner's property tax bill. That might not necessarily be a bad option for the property owner, however, since they could pay part of the special assessment right away and could take up to ten years to pay off the balance.
Chapter 12.28 of the City Code of Decorah gives the city the right to levy special assessments for sidewalk work. It also sets forth regulations about sidewalk construction.
The federal government's Americans with Disabilities Act--the ADA championed by former Iowa U.S. Senator Tom Harkin--also sets forth community accessibility requirements, including the requirement that cities have master plans for sidewalks and connectivity.
(Fun trivia fact: "The Sidewalks of New York" was Alfred E. Smith's 1928 Democratic presidential campaign theme, but it annoyed rural voters across the country. He lost the election in a landslide to Iowa native Herbert Hoover.)