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
I'd disagree with this iteration of the committee.ReplyDelete
First, enforcement is not the way to go. The Code, the Code Enforcement Office, the City Court -- too many moving parts and if time is the issue as mentioned by one of the alderwomen, then complexity ain't your friend. Gossips mentions the need for uniformity in actual construction and this, too, is not served by the enforcement approach.
Special assessment districts -- what Mr. Howard was referencing when City counsel -- are well-understood and oft-used mechanisms in NYS to accomplish these larger types of projects that both rely on private property owners paying the bill and uniformity in application. And, to correct Alderwoman Morris's misconception, it's not a tax -- it's an assessment of a portion of the total cost of the project to the property owner based on their affected frontage. Taxes recur, special assessments don't and, once paid, they disappear. It's shown to be a very cost-effective way to do these type of projects as they permit the City to negotiate large contracts with one or more contractors to undertake the totality of the work. The City can either float a bond to pay the expense or rely on its full-faith-and-credit to enter contracts paid over time as the special assessments are realized by the Treasurer. If the first route is chosen then the City is paid back by the special assessments.
I agree with John's thinking here. I also urge consideration of Hilary's suggestion about uniform design (or, the spirit of her suggestion, if not necessarily the specific). Conditions, such as width, vary all over town so one design won't fit all. But before any of this gets underway, the city could establish a suite of possible designs, maybe as few as three would be enough. Where width allows, there could be a strip to accommodate tree lawn or bioswale. In other situations, maybe just a planting pit for a street tree, one per every such-and-such distance. And so on. The matter of raising the levels is a real but different problem. I'd like to hear a rational explanation for why that rule exists. If it must be retained, then there ought to be some uniform and safety-minded specs for how sections of different heights must meet (like, ramps).Delete
However you want to label it, the City charges a fee, or a tax to every property owner to fix only some property owners sidewalks. To someone who has a good sidewalk that is offensive - Un-American!Delete
I agree with John, Jonathan and Hillary. I also recall people talking about what had been done in Ithaca as a model:Delete
"The new sidewalk policy went into effect January, 2014. This program moves away from burdening individual property owners with the entire cost of sidewalk installation and maintenance for sidewalks adjoining their property, towards the creation of 5 Sidewalk Improvement Districts (SID) funded by an annual sidewalk assessment fee."
It doesn't need to work like that. If a property owner's sidewalks are in good shape and to code then they'd be left as-is and not be subject to the assessment. Frankly, I think this situation might apply to only a handful of properties.Delete
If I understand you correctly, the total cost of all the bad sidewalks is apportioned between the property owners of same, while the owners of good sidewalks pay nothing. How is this so different in effect from the present law, especially considering we already have that law in place, and enacting a new special assessment law will take God only knows how much time? Consider that talks on special assessment began in 2019.Delete
What makes this committee believe a letter/reminder to residents will have any effect on the state of our sidewalks? Will enforcement from Craig Haigh's department suddenly and magically kick into sidewalk enforcement mode? Was Craig there to offer his 23 seconds of available time at the half hour meeting, to let everyone know if he can or wants to handle this extra workload? Or to just tell the committee if this was a good idea? The sidewalk committee is pursuing the enforcement route and no one from the already overburdened Code Enforcement Office was on hand to comment. This new approach will fail also, just check back in 2 or 3 years when little or no progress has been made and a new sidewalk committee is formed. B HustonReplyDelete
Enforce the law, that's the rule, fix your own sidewalk or be fined. If you don't fix it, the city contractor fixes it and you pay it in your tax bill. Plus the fine. Doesn't sound very difficult. Why should someone pay a tax to fix someone else's sidewalk?ReplyDelete
Why not enforce the law we already have? The essential problem is neither ignorance of the law, nor overworked Code Enforcement, nor the difficulty of matching one sidewalk to another. Soft soaping the obvious violators with a sweet letter instead of serving a citation is a waste of time and money: they already know who they are and have already enjoyed years of the City's lassitude. Let's bring the proper feet to the fire and get this thing going. If Code Enforcement is too overburdened to handle the task let's get some part time temps to do the paper pushing. And as to matching sidewalk to sidewalk, surely a contractor approved by the City is competent to rise to the task.ReplyDelete
I wonder where liability lies? If someone has a nasty fall and there is a $100K lawsuit, is the property owner on the hook, or is the City at fault for failing to enforce standards?ReplyDelete
The property owner’s insurance company.Delete
The rules need to be clarified for residents. If you have a square or two of broken sidewalk but the majority is good, can you replace those one or two pieces or does the entire walk have to be raised to a higher level? It seems like a crazy rule, to raise the sidewalks piecemeal, some higher, others not. Anyone know why was this changed?ReplyDelete
Who is going to send out all the first notices/reminders to residents? If they are included in the water bills sent out by DPW, as was suggested, where was Rob Perry at the meeting to discuss this? Then when no one fixes their sidewalk, does DPW or someone else send a more forceful reminder in the mail or maybe a thug to knock on the door with a "reminder?" And then a ticket to appear before the judge a year after the process began when still the sidewalk is untouched? I think this is precisely why there is no enforcement of the sidewalk code now and maybe never has been -- it gets bogged down and becomes an obviously inefficient, unbalanced, waste of time approach that shows no helpful results. I imagine Craig Haigh says WHY BOTHER? when and if he ever is asked to enforce the sidewalk code. This is what Ithaca, NY understood and avoided with their successful plan which the former council wasted 3 years considering. But Ithaca has a Planning Department, and a DPW smartly divided into 3 divisions: Engineering, Streets and Facilities, and Water -- So they can get things done properly. And they do. We, on the other hand, are not in any position to pull off a workable, city-wide sidewalk replacement project, no matter which model is chosen. The problem is not the lack of enforcement, we all know that is an issue into itself beyond sidewalks. The problem is a structural one. City Hall is simply not structured well enough (unlike Ithaca, say) to accomplish what the sidewalk committees talk endlessly about. It simply won't happen. It can't. You watch.ReplyDelete
Since the sidewalk job is so immense and will take so long to be done PROPERLY, it will require a new department dedicated to the task. A professional planner or organizational guru would agree with me. The Ithaca model was nixed here because city hall is not organized to implement it and see it through. It was too big a task - for what department(s)? Now we are going to send reminders and see what happens? Ha B Huston
I disagree, it seems like a simple thing to do.Delete
1) Notice sent with water bill.
2) No repairs, owner is fined.
3) Still no repairs, fines escalate.
4) Still no repairs, city contractor make repairs and all fines and repairs added to property tax.
5) No payment of tax, house foreclosed.
6) City recovers tax lien on sale.
The added benefit is uncooperative, antisocial homeowners are removed and replaced by better ones who pay their bills and do required maintenance. More curb grass and trees will be added because it is less expensive if the concrete does not go all the way to the curb.
I guarantee that Craig Haigh would respond to your idea with a WAIT A MINUTE, IT'S NOT AS SIMPLE AS YOU THINK...Delete
Why should a beautiful city like Hudson have a Hodgepodge of mix and match sidewalks created at the whim of overtaxed home owners? The lodging tax funds were moved to the general fund; I can’t think of more appropriate use of these new revenues. Relax the STR rules and there will be even more money to pay for new sidewalks all over the city.ReplyDelete
Just for perspective, the $250k/year that was moved wouldn’t pay for a full block of sidewalk. Small won’t get this done. This is what special assessment districts are for.Delete
Great idea, that is exactly what we should be doing. Rather than resenting and trying to cripple the tourist business, encourage it and use the money to benefit city residents, start fixing sidewalks, put solar panels on homes. Take the millions being wasted on surveys, planners and projects like building weird plaza intersections on front and second put it to the same purpose. Free sidewalks and solar panels on buildings, now you are talking!Delete
P Winslow, Nice sidewalks benefit everyone, including tourists. John Friedman, if the STR was relaxed, there would be a lot more lodging tax money coming in.ReplyDelete
Nine units came off the market due to the STR law.Delete
I don't know, the assessment idea sounds good, I just don't trust the management, what sounds good does not always end up that way. Plowing down the whole north east end of Hudson sounded good at the time, as did taking over the Furgary, and look how that ended up. Have you been down there lately? What I do know is the debate has to end and something has to be done one way or the other, because no one is going to fix a sidewalk while this debate is going on.Delete
Isn't that nine too many? What's their status at present? For sale as single family, high rent apartments or sitting empty? In all cases, not serving visitors looking for overnight hospitality at a reasonable price. And, let's not forget, the lodging tax.Delete
How was it done and funded way back when they ripped up the red pavers on Warren St?Delete
If the burden of liability is on the home owner, why do anything about the side walks. Eventually they will be upgraded by new owners. Mr Winslow's 6 step method of PUNISHMENT is just too mean spirited for some in Hudson. Our QUAINT sidewalks didn't stop anyone from moving here. There are a few well known 'hot spots' that need to be avoided completely, perhaps the city could coerce these properties to improve their walks, perhaps with an incentive vs punishment.ReplyDelete