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Sidewalks ballot initiative could cost some homeowners nearly $1,000 or more

Sidewalk in southwest Denver neighborhood
Posted at 9:18 PM, Aug 22, 2022
and last updated 2022-08-23 00:13:33-04

DENVER — In November, Denver voters will decide whether to publicly fund sidewalk construction and upkeep by adding a new fee for property owners, which would charge per foot of sidewalk on their lot.

The fee would be paid twice per year, according to the initiative, and would cost an average household about $107 per year. Some home owners, however, could be met with substantially higher costs than their neighbors, according to data shared with Denver7 by Denver City Councilmember Kevin Flynn.

“I think there needs to be a lot of discussion about disparate impacts,” Flynn told Denver7, standing on the sidewalk of a home in his district, which he calculated would owe nearly $900 per year under the proposal. “It concerns me from an equitable standpoint, that some people — who happen to have very nice sidewalks that won’t need replacing for 50 years — nevertheless, are going to have to pay almost $900 a year without getting benefits.”

The home Flynn described, located in southwest Denver, has sidewalks on three sides of the property, including along Sheridan Blvd. Under the pricing structure of the initiative, property owners pay between $2.15 and $4.30 per foot of frontage, with arterial streets costing more. Corner lots and so-called peninsula lots, therefore, would have higher costs than other homes in their same neighborhood.

Sidewalks ballot initiative could cost some homeowners nearly $1,000 or more

Denver7 spoke with Martin Vigil, a resident of southwest Denver who lives on a peninsula lot with streets on three sides of his property. If the ballot initiative passes, he would be looking at a bill of about $620 per year, according to Flynn’s calculation.

“I’ve got a lot of sidewalks. So if they charge per linear foot, I’m going to pay more than my neighbor across the street,” Vigil said. “I don’t think that’s fair.

“I think everybody should take care of their sidewalk on their own. I have a little rental house, and I’ve replaced several sections of that [sidewalk] because it was cracked. And I keep it up. That’s my responsibility.”

Many Denver sidewalks do need attention. According to the city, about 40% of sidewalks are either missing or too narrow — with nearly half in lower-income areas — which can especially impact those with disabilities.

At current funding levels, it would take around 400 years to build and fix the sidewalks. The proposed ordinance also includes a 20% discount for neighborhoods identified through Denver’s Neighborhood Equity & Stabilization program, which currently includes East and West Colfax, Globeville, Montbello, Northeast Park Hill, Sun Valley, Valverde, Villa Park and Westwood. Denver Deserves Sidewalks says on its website this discount is included “to not place an undue burden on lower-income neighborhoods that have historically received less investment in public infrastructure … and that face a significant risk of displacement.”

Martin Vigil, though — looking at a potential bill nearly six times the projected average — said he will be voting no this November.

“I do believe that if they have sidewalks in Denver, and they’re not disability [accessible], they should take care of them. The person who owns the property should take care of it,” Vigil said. “But why should I pay for other people’s sidewalks?”