Following complaints about deteriorating sidewalk segments along St. Armands Circle, property owners and city staff are uncertain about who's supposed to fix it.
Whose job is it to maintain private improvements to the public sidewalk on St. Armands Circle?
For city and St. Armands leaders, an answer to that question has been elusive. The issue came up last fall when a landowner responded to complaints about deteriorating brick pavers in front of a Circle property by stating it was the city’s responsibility.
Diana Corrigan, executive director of the St. Armands Circle Association, said her longstanding belief was that property owners had to maintain privately undertaken improvements. But she didn’t know for sure — and neither did anyone else, it seemed.
Corrigan highlighted a stretch of the southwest quadrant of the shopping district where the wear on the brick sidewalk was particularly noticeable. Fearing a potential lawsuit if someone tripped and fell on the Circle, she implored St. Armands stakeholders and city staff to find a definitive answer.
“We need to find out what the responsibility is,” Corrigan said in October. “Nobody’s doing anything.”
In January, city staff explored the complexities of the situation at a St. Armands Business Improvement District meeting. Corrigan was correct that the city requires property owners to maintain private improvements to public right of way. Today, the city memorializes this arrangement in agreements with property owners.
But some of the improvements on the Circle date back decades, according to those present at the BID meeting. As properties change hands, owners have abdicated their responsibility to make sure the sidewalks were well kept — and the city hasn’t enforced any sort of agreement or intervened when maintenance isn’t taking place.
“The problem is, some of these were done a long time ago,” BID Chairman Gavin Meshad said. “There’s probably no agreement.”
City Engineer Alex DavisShaw said the responsibility to maintain the sidewalk falls outside of the city’s normal scope of work. If private improvements degrade over time and the owner doesn’t address the issue, the city will restore the right of way to its original state.
Although staff seemed to land on a decision regarding responsibility for the enhanced sidewalks, it’s still unclear what steps the city and private property owners will take to address deteriorating segments of right of way. DavisShaw said staff has not finalized any plan of action.
“It’s a gray area, so who knows,” Corrigan said.
Regardless of who technically bears the responsibility for the sidewalks, Meshad admonished property owners who were not willing to ensure the Circle remained well maintained.
“It’s a silly thing to argue about,” Meshad said. “It’s like asking, ‘Who’s going to clean the gum off the street?’ Just do it.”
At Tuesday’s BID meeting, the group revisited concerns regarding the assessment property owners are paying to help fund a parking garage on the Circle.
Landlord Ethna Lynch said she never received notice of how much she’d be required to pay before the city approved a 20-year special assessment for a garage on Adams Drive. The assessment will raise $260,000 annually.
Although property owners offered support for the project at a January meeting, they say the city didn’t provide details on how much they’d be paying toward the garage.
Lynch pointed to a consultant’s report from December 2015 that offered a preliminary outline of the city’s approach for the assessment. Corrigan said that report was not mentioned at the January meeting, and Lynch wondered why it wasn’t.
“We voted on a blind proposal,” Lynch said.
City Parking Manager Mark Lyons said staff made clear the cost of the assessment would vary for different property owners depending on location and usage. He said the report may not have been discussed at the January meeting because it did not offer specifics regarding cost. He also said the city mailed out notices to property owners before approving the special assessment.
“I know specifically it was said that there’d be some higher, some lower,” Lyons said.