The Charlottesville City Council will ask the General Assembly for the authority to collect payment from developers who seek to avoid building sidewalks in front of new homes.
Their decision came Monday after denying a waiver that would have allowed homebuilder Beau Dickerson to get out of a require-ment to build a 70-foot long sidewalk at a new home site on Moore Avenue.
“City code requires that sidewalks be constructed on a previously unimproved lot or parcel unless this requirement is waived by council,” said city planner Brian Haluska.
Haluska said waivers are usually granted if there are topographic challenges that would require cutting into a slope or the construc-tion of a retaining wall. However, he said that is not the case with 807 Moore Ave.
Beau Dickerson said it would cost about $3,500 to put in the sidewalk but that’s not why he asked for the waiver.
“This request is for a lot on a minor side street within a mature neighborhood that is entirely built out,” Dickerson said. “No other owners will be building sidewalks on that side of the street.”
The city has plans to build a sidewalk on the other side of Moore Avenue to connect to an existing sidewalk on Hazel Street. How-ever, Haluska recommended against granting the waiver.
“There’s a number of city streets that you walk down in the city where a new house has been built and there’s that little stretch of sidewalk,” Haluska said. “As an eventual goal for the city, we would have sidewalks on both sides on as many streets as we can get them on. Every little piece helps.”
When Councilor Kristin Szakos suggested the city simply switch the location of the sidewalk, Haluska said planning is well under way.
“Only as a last resort would they flip it to the other side because they’ve already begun property negotiations for the current route,” Haluska said.
Councilor Kathy Galvin suggested a program where developers seeking waivers could pay for the cost of a sidewalk to be built somewhere else.
“If the goal is to get at least continuous sidewalk on one side, isn’t the better achievement making that continuous as opposed to it being a hop, skip and a jump down the street?” Galvin asked.
If applicants paid into a sidewalk fund, that could allow the city to build more sidewalks. However, Haluska said state code does not allow for payment in lieu of building the sidewalks.
“It’s either build it or don’t,” Haluska said.
“The city is not likely to give you a waiver,” said Mayor Satyendra Huja to Dickerson. “You realize there [are] sidewalk needs on the other side of the road. … Would you be willing to contribute? We are not demanding, but would you be willing to contribute the $3,500?”
Interrupting what was potentially a delicate legal matter after Dickerson agreed, City Attorney Craig Brown reminded Huja that the city has no authority to accept that money.
“It’s possible to donate money, but not to buy an exemption from the zoning regulations,” Brown said.
“I’m not forcing him to do that, but I’m just asking if he would be willing to contribute,” Huja said. “Any person has the right to contribute to the city.”
Council voted 4-1 against the waiver, with Dave Norris voting for it.
Szakos said even a small amount of sidewalk would be beneficial for schoolchildren who walk to and from Burnley-Moran Elementary School.
“Even if a child is walking along there and a car is coming, it will provide a refuge where they can get out of the street,” Szakos said.
Council will request that David Blount, legislative liaison for the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission, add a request for enabling legislation to the city’s
legislative program for the 2013 General Assembly. If approved, the city could legally accept such contributions in the future.
“Over the next couple of weeks I’ll be drafting the program,” Blount said. After the program is approved, Blount will hold a forum with area legislators to see if any of them will introduce any of the bills next session.