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Should Denver homeowners be forced to fix their sidewalks?

Posted at 5:22 PM, Aug 23, 2018
and last updated 2018-08-24 07:47:15-04

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DENVER -- While many don't realize it, Denver homeowners and businesses are responsible for fixing cracked, busted and uneven sidewalks on their property. The city now plans to start enforcing an old ordinance to make sure repairs are made to Denver's crumbling sidewalk system.

"Citywide we have hazardous sidewalks, you'll see it wherever you go," said Nancy Kuhn with Denver Public Works. "The idea is to have a really fine network for walking, traveling in the city - that is safe."
The ordinance says property owners, not the city, are responsible for fixing cracks or uneven sidewalk sections that are greater than 3/4 of an inch.

"(This is the) first time we've ever done it in the city. It's a proactive program where we're going out inspecting sidewalks and letting folks know what needs to be repaired," explained Kuhn.

How Denver's sidewalk repair program works

To give you an idea of how many sidewalks are in bad shape across the city -- Denver estimates more than half of city homeowners or 58 percent need sidewalk repairs. While 62 percent of commercial properties will have to fix their sidewalks.

As far as cost, the city said most repairs, or 40 percent, should cost less than $1,000 while 1 percent could cost more than $5,000.

Public Works has divided the city into 11 regions of neighborhoods and Kuhn said she hopes the city will tackle one area per year.

Inspectors started looking for hazardous sidewalks in Region 1 neighborhoods in August, which includes Capitol Hill, Congress Park, and Cherry Creek.

If the city identifies a sidewalk for repair, the inspector will leave a notice on the property owners front door and send another copy in the mail.

Kuhn said once the city notifies the homeowner, they will have 45 days to make the repairs using the city's contractor or their own.

"(We're giving them an) estimate that we feel is most affordable to fix the problem. They can use our contractor. They can go get their own contractor. They may be able to do the repairs themselves," she said.

As for those who don't meet the 45-day deadline for repairs?

"We are going to go ahead and make those repairs and bill the property owner," said Kuhn.

Denver is trying to pave the way to safer sidewalks and some agree while others aren't buying who is being required to foot the bill.  

Denver homeowners say it's time to fix sidewalks

Marion, a Denver homeowner for 50 years, said she learned the hard way the dangers of the city's sidewalks.

"I was just walking and I fell and broke a wrist, just off Speer," she said. "The sidewalks are in such bad shape here."

Marion is the latest victim of Denver's uneven, busted, and cracked sidewalk situation.

In her view, it doesn't matter who or how. The sidewalks need to be repaired and fast.

"I think they definitely have to review them and fix them," she said.

Other views question the cost

"I feel like there's probably enough tax money for the city to take care of it," said Denver resident Andrew Lee. "If it's your property and your sidewalk, if you will, and now you have to replace it on your own. Why not be able to replace it with anything you want?"

A fair point some say. Why can't he go with a purple sidewalk, why can't homeowners make them gravel or brick since they are the ones footing the bill?

Bottom line, the city explained that's not the way it works. Denver is offering some flexibility and cheaper repair options like patching or grinding where possible.

"We're trying to make this as easy and affordable as possible for folks," said Kuhn.

For those on fixed incomes or who cannot afford to make the sidewalk repairs. Denver does have an affordability program for those who qualify.

City trees causing sidewalk damage

An entirely different perspective is rooted in Denver's trees. Beautiful older trees from above, a virtual mind field from ground level.

"Because of the hump right here, which has pushed up by the tree," explained Denver resident Tony Madrid.

Madrid said the city recently told him he had to fix his uneven sidewalk after someone tripped and fell.

"Why am I responsible for the city sidewalk when it's a city tree that caused the problem," he said.

Madrid said he's the victim of a double whammy, but the city said it's his property so it's his responsibility.

"I'm trying to do the right thing," he said.

The city they are too.

"What we've committed to do is protect as many healthy trees as we can," said Kuhn. "Our goal is to be creative, look for a work around. Can we go around the tree? Can we go over the root in a way that won't damage the tree?"  

Madrid said he gets that, but still thinks it's unfair.

"It's going to get done, but I still feel like I shouldn't have to pay for the whole thing," he said.

Why can't Denver use tax money to fix sidewalks?

As for why the city said it can't use tax money to fix sidewalks in disrepair, especially when the city's own the tree to blame: 

"The level of repairs that are needed citywide is a very expensive fix and one way or another we would get that money. There many options to do that: is it a tax increase? Is it a fee? There are different options that I know the city looked at," explained Kuhn.

She said where the city landed, after a group met for more than year on the topic, is on enforcing the policy already on the books.

This is the fastest way the city sees to fix its bad sidewalk situation that most everyone agrees needs more than a band aid.

"What we're hearing from our community is they want better sidewalk conditions. They want better options for getting around," said Kuhn.