A stump sits on  the east side of North Washington Avenue, between Lexington and Mount Vernon boulevards, Jan. 26. Residents impacted by tree removal for new sidewalks sued the city of Royal Oak last year, and the Oakland County Circuit Court dismissed the case in November, according to City Attorney David Gillam.

A stump sits on the east side of North Washington Avenue, between Lexington and Mount Vernon boulevards, Jan. 26. Residents impacted by tree removal for new sidewalks sued the city of Royal Oak last year, and the Oakland County Circuit Court dismissed the case in November, according to City Attorney David Gillam.

Photo by Sarah Wojcik


New sidewalk construction slated for northern residential areas

Officials defend sidewalk program, residents decry loss of trees

By: Sarah Wojcik | Royal Oak Review | Published January 31, 2018

 Crews cut down a tree on the west side of North Washington Avenue, between Lexington and Mount Vernon boulevards, as part of Royal Oak’s 2017 Sidewalk Improvement Program Jan. 26.

Crews cut down a tree on the west side of North Washington Avenue, between Lexington and Mount Vernon boulevards, as part of Royal Oak’s 2017 Sidewalk Improvement Program Jan. 26.

Photo by Sarah Wojcik

ROYAL OAK — At the behest of the City Commission in 2011, Royal Oak established a six-year sidewalk improvement program to be funded special-assessment style, putting property owners on the hook for replacing slabs deemed deficient by city inspectors.

Phase one of the 2017 Sidewalk Improvement Program recently concluded, and phase two will include new sidewalks where they currently do not exist on Bellevue Avenue, Custer Avenue, Delemere Boulevard, Glendale Avenue, East Sunnybrook Drive, North Washington Avenue and Woodside Road.

Officials expect phase two to be completed in spring 2018.

Phase one included the replacement of deficient concrete sidewalks and the installation of new sidewalks at one property on Amelia Street.

At the Jan. 22 City Commission meeting, commissioners voted 4-3 to establish the tax roll for phase one. The commissioners who voted against establishing the tax roll said they did not have enough time to go through the letters they received protesting various aspects of the program, and the commissioners wished for more time or a different way of conducting the program.

Mayor Michael Fournier, Mayor Pro Tem Sharlan Douglas and Commissioners Kyle DuBuc and Patricia Paruch voted in favor of establishing the tax roll. Commissioners Kim Gibbs, Melanie Macey and Randy LeVasseur voted “no.” 

The split vote came after an initial motion to grant commissioners more time had failed.

Of the 2,725 affected properties in phase one, City Engineer Matthew Callahan said at the Jan. 22 City Commission meeting that he knew of approximately 10 property owners who requested payment plans.

“In the fall of 2016, we went out and surveyed all the sidewalks in the target area, and marked the sidewalks, and came back in the spring, and oftentimes after we sent out initial estimates, we got to a piece of property that needed more work or less work,” he said. “At the time, engineers met with the homeowners, explaining why (sidewalks were) marked and for what reason.”

He said city inspectors do not deviate from established criteria for what constitutes a sidewalk deficiency, and that the city’s contractor is on the hook until the work is completed satisfactorily.

“People don’t like the program to begin with,” Callahan said. “We obviously have a certain amount of people who just disagree with everything that we say.”

DuBuc said the program has “touched literally everyone” in the city and that he and Fournier have spent “hours and hours” meeting with people in their living rooms to discuss the criteria.

City Manager Donald Johnson said the special assessment process, which includes establishing the tax roll as determined by City Assessor James Geiermann, is a standard order of business that has been done “dozens of times” in the last six years.

“I hate this program. The citizens don’t like this program. It drives us crazy every year,” Commissioner Patricia Paruch said. “But sidewalk improvements and sidewalk repairs have to be done. There’s no question about that, for the city’s liabilities insurance and residents’ safeties, we can’t avoid fixing the sidewalks.”

Mayor Pro Tem Sharlan Douglas said changing a “very established process” to give special treatment to residents who sent letters or went on record at a City Commission meeting would be unfair.

“I think we should maintain the process that we’ve been following and treat everybody fairly and not single people out in that fashion,” she said. 

She added that she was surprised with the quality of the sidewalk contractor’s work over the summer, as the number of complaints did not “hold a candle” to the previous year.

Several residents came before the City Commission Jan. 22 to protest the program for reasons including what they said was shoddy work, an inability to afford the assessed cost and the removal of trees.

City Attorney David Gillam said the 2017 sidewalk improvement program is the last year of the city’s six-year sidewalk improvement plan. During the Jan. 22 meeting, commissioners discussed the possibility of, in the future, finding a different way to fund the sidewalk program, including a millage.

Residents impacted by the loss of trees brought forth a lawsuit against the city last year. Gillam said the lawsuit was dismissed in the Oakland County Circuit Court in November on the grounds that the circuit court was not the appropriate court for the lawsuit to be filed, Gillam said.

“The sidewalk program, generally speaking, is something the City Commission initiated all the way through for a variety of reasons, in terms of walkability and … part of the motivation of why commissioners (want the sidewalks in) are there are parks on the north end of town, and as I understand, people have to walk in the street to get to the parks. It’s potentially dangerous.”

Mike Skinner, in a Jan. 26 interview with the Royal Oak Review, said he and approximately 20 other residents are plaintiffs in the case. He said he felt that sidewalk installation resulting in tree removal is “misguided” and makes him and his neighbors “literally sick.” Despite continued motions, he said he doubted the case would be heard in appellate court.

“Those are the trees our kids grew up on. In my case, I have owls in my trees,” Skinner said. “We can’t appeal until we get a final bill, and that’s after our trees are torn down. We’re caught in the middle of this.”

Wallis Andersen came before the City Commission Jan. 22 to express concern for the mature trees in the neighborhoods included in phase two that have never had sidewalks.

“If you think about the sidewalks in these locations, they are pretty much useless compared to the loss of tree canopy involved,” she said. “It was cruel and feels vindictive to have the city take trees down a week before Christmas without talking to us and not talking to each homeowner who had so much to lose.”

For more information about the sidewalk program or to request a payment plan, visit romi.gov/sidewalks or call the Royal Oak Engineering Division at (248) 246-3260. 

To pay a bill, call the Treasurer’s Office at (248) 246-3140 or visit Royal Oak City Hall, located at 211 S. Williams St., west of South Troy Street.