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Northwest Voices

Seattle Times letters to the editor

March 26, 2009 at 2:02 PM

The sidewalk to nowhere

City’s infrastructure planning lacking

Hats off to Sara Jean Green for bringing the city’s ill-conceived and wrongheaded sidewalk ordinance to light [“Janitors path to dream: Pave it, city says,” page one, March 24].

Of course, if she used a big bad developer as an example, there would be no outcry (due to Seattle’s defensive penchant to punish all ambition).

What’s wrong is that the city has no plan for continuity or completion to bring basic infrastructure to these neighborhoods. For it is not the sidewalks that are the costly factor; it’s the requirement for street widening, curbs and drainage that is the backbreaker.

Since development is infill and houses generally last 50-100 years, the result will at best create a patchwork of curbs and sidewalks of varying age and quality, with streets expanding and contracting from house to house. At no time will the job ever be complete.

The great objection is that it is a complete waste of money to pay for curbs and drainage when there are no storm sewers in these neighborhoods. Where and what do you drain to and will it just be torn up when sewers eventually arrive? Just the plans, permits and review fees can cost as much as Jesus Barajas’ $15,000 estimate. The sidewalks themselves are not a big deal and are typically replaced during construction.

I believe what “real cities” do is to float a bond to pay for the infrastructure, which is then carried out in a well-planned, consistent manner; the funds are recouped in the inevitable rise in assessments on the improvements increasing the neighborhood property values. It is more efficient to have one plan and one contractor for the entire neighborhood than to reinvent it with each property, although this would eliminate the steady stream of review fees to the city.

— J. Fred Stukenberg, Seattle

Council actions inconsistent

I don’t understand the hand-wringing by the Seattle City Council that was described in the article regarding the expensive sidewalk construction required of Jesus Barajas as part of his home-construction project. The council is acting as if there is nothing they can do.

A couple years ago, a developer proposed a project down the street from me that clearly should not have been allowed under existing Seattle construction and zoning codes. In fact, the city’s hearing examiner stated exactly that in their evaluation. Yet the City Council held a couple hearings and then voted to override the code and allow the development.

So when members of the City Council shrug their collective shoulders and declare there is nothing they can do, they are being disingenuous at best. The detailed minutia of city code allows them to make exceptions, and they know it. If Barajas was a friend of City Hall, this would not be happening to him.

Without a doubt, sidewalks are a good thing, especially in urban villages. It is major failure of the city to declare a neighborhood an urban village and then not follow through with the required infrastructure investment.

But the fact that nobody on the City Council will step up and go to bat for Barajas on this one project and correct this ridiculous application of a flawed ordinance is just another example of how out of touch Seattle’s leaders are with a significant majority of its citizens.

— Jim Mabe, Seattle

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