Sidewalks have been a topic of discussion in Hudson for decades. Gossips first did a post about the state of the sidewalks in 2012: "Where the Sidewalk Ends." Since then, sidewalks and the City's attempts to remedy the problems of sidewalks in disrepair has been the topic of at least eighteen posts on Gossips.
At the beginning of 2019, the issue of sidewalks was taken up by the Legal Committee of the Common Council. At the January 2019 meeting of the Legal Committee, Andy Howard, who was then city attorney, outlined two courses of action the City might pursue. He called the first an "enforcement mechanism." Substandard sidewalks would be ticketed, and the owners of the adjacent properties would have to fix their sidewalk or pay a fine sufficient to cover the expense of the City fixing it. The second would be the creation of a "special district," in which an annual payment for the repair and maintenance of sidewalks would be added to the property tax bills.
Since that meeting three years ago, members of the Common Council--first the Legal Committee, then an ad hoc committee devoted exclusively to the issue--have been working on legislation that would shift the responsibility of maintaining sidewalks from individual property owners to the City of Hudson, a transfer that would be supported by an additional tax paid by property owners. The last the public saw of such legislation was a draft posted on the City of Hudson website sometime in 2019.
The latest iteration of the ad hoc committee devoted to sidewalks, made up of Margaret Morris (First Ward), Amber Harris (Third Ward), Ryan Wallace (Third Ward), Vicky Daskaloudi (Fifth Ward), and Dominic Merante (Fifth Ward), met for the first time on Tuesday. It seems the new committee is ready to scrap the efforts of the past three years and pursue what Howard called the "enforcement mechanism."
Early in the meeting, Alder Margaret Morris expressed her opinion that "having a tax is not the appropriate response" to the problem. Instead, she advocated for enforcing the current law, which makes property owners responsible for the sidewalks adjacent to their buildings. She told the committee that in New York City, when a sidewalk was determined to be deficient, the property owner had three options:
- Hire a private contractor to make the repairs, which then must be inspected and approved by the City
- Hire a contractor approved by the City to make the repairs
- Ignore the citation and let the City make the repairs and charge them to the property owner in property taxes
Merante pondered, "If we have a code, why do we have this problem? When was the last time the code was implemented?" Morris replied that sidewalk rules are not enforced, and citations are not issued. Wallace suggested that "things like that go to a bigger issue: People don't know the rules." Daskaloudi suggested that a letter be sent out with the water and sewer bill telling people to fix their sidewalks." Merante noted that the letter needed to say when they would start enforcing the code." Daskaloudi said people need a year to make repairs to their sidewalks.
The enforcement plan ignores one of the biggest problems with Hudson sidewalks. The specifications for sidewalks in the code require new sidewalks to be significantly higher than existing sidewalks. As a consequence, when a sidewalk at one property is replaced, the difference in height can be several inches. This presents challenges for all pedestrians but especially for people in wheelchairs or scooters and the visually impaired.
Hilary Hillman of the Conservation Advisory Council pointed out that, if the City were to take over the sidewalks, they could be designed with bioswales for stormwater absorption. She also argued that economy of scale could be better achieved if the City were to undertake replacing the sidewalks block by block. Daskaloudi responded, "In theory, this is great, but it will take years." She again suggested a letter be sent to property owners, "and people will fix whatever they can fix."
Wallace said there could be a tax incentive for people who repaired their sidewalks in accordance with the CAC's recommendations. Morris acknowledged that a uniform approach was good and suggested that the City could come up with a plan and "charge that back in taxes." With this, the discussion seemed to come full circle.
Because the ad hoc committee meeting had been scheduled just half an hour before the regular Common Council meeting, it had to be adjourned before any action items other than possibly a letter in the water bill had been agreed upon.
COPYRIGHT 2022 CAROLE OSTERINK