Royal Oak to roll out new sidewalk program in 2020

By: Sarah Wojcik | Royal Oak Review | Published August 20, 2019

 On Aug. 12, the Royal Oak City Commission unanimously approved a new 2020-2026 sidewalk program, which will allow homeowners to perform more repairs themselves, instead of the city, to save money.

On Aug. 12, the Royal Oak City Commission unanimously approved a new 2020-2026 sidewalk program, which will allow homeowners to perform more repairs themselves, instead of the city, to save money.

File photo by Sarah Wojcik

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ROYAL OAK — After a sidewalk millage to fund the city’s sidewalk program failed in November 2018, the City Commission directed city staff in January 2019 to review sidewalk replacement criteria and come back with a recommendation for a future sidewalk improvement program.

The new six-year program, which the City Commission passed unanimously Aug. 12, will allow property owners more freedom to perform work or hire their own contractors to perform work, rather than the city, for a decreased cost.

City Engineer Matthew Callahan said the city evaluated and categorized three main types of defects: trip hazards, structural defects and surface conditions.

“We looked at each of those categories and determined that we could potentially make the sidewalk program at a lower cost,” Callahan said. “We looked at the defects’ hazard level to determine if there’s some sort of lesser repair options that could make these sidewalks last longer, such as shaving or filling pits.”

He said the city wanted to simplify the program, since in prior years, property owners did not seem to understand it.  The biggest problem, he said, was that the repairs did not last because of tree roots or other weights being placed on them.

“We’re recommending that we raise the standard for tripping from half an inch to an inch,” Callahan said. “In the past, our half-inch differential was a pretty tight standard and a lot of people disagreed with it.”

The state of Michigan recently amended its governmental tort liability act to limit the liability of local municipalities.

“While cities continue to be liable for accidents on sidewalks that have a vertical discontinuity of 2 inches or more or are otherwise dangerous, the fact that the condition would have been open and obvious to an average person with ordinary intelligence is now a valid defense,” Callahan wrote in a memo from the Jan. 14, 2019, meeting.

He said city staff also talked about cracked sidewalks, and moving forward, will leave some cracked sidewalks in place.

“They’ll probably last for six years if it’s a tight, defined crack and not broken into more than two pieces,” he said.

Other criteria in the new program, which also appeared in the last cycle, will allow homeowners to hire a reputable company to fill pitted sidewalks or grind down lipped edges instead of using city resources to do so.

“We will try to write them up a minimal permit to do a review of (shaving), and it would probably cost them about half the cost of a normal sidewalk replacement,” Callahan said.

He said the fee for such a permit would likely be around $25 instead of the normal permit fee, which starts at $130.

“The price (for sidewalk) isn’t $80 a flag anymore like it was in the ’90s,” Callahan said. “It’s $130-$150, so it can add up pretty quickly, and (property owners are) very concerned that they’re getting their money’s worth, and I totally understand that.”

Commissioner Melanie Macey said she was happy to see the changes to the sidewalk program, and she felt it would save money while not compromising safety. She expressed gratitude that the Engineering Division acquiesced to the commission’s request for more cost-saving measures.

“I think these requirements are going to be much better for the residents and homeowners to keep up the repairs, and offering the residents the ability to fill in pits and shave should certainly appease the majority of them, so I’m in favor of this,” Commissioner Kim Gibbs said.

Commissioner Patricia Paruch said the new tweaks to the program reflect what other surrounding communities are doing. She said that while the cost of concrete continues to increase, it is necessary to maintain sidewalks, not only as a liability risk, but also as a public health issue.

“If you don’t, there will be accidents and people will end up in the hospital in casts or stitches or whatever, and we don’t want that to happen,” Paruch said. “We all have to bite the bullet and pay for the expense when it comes time to be our turn.”

In the past, the sidewalk improvement program faced objections from residents, especially those in northern subdivisions where sidewalks had never been installed. In the Sunnybrook area, residents unsuccessfully sued the city over the program.

“This has been something that has been a thorn in the side of our residents, and I don’t know that it’s going to be totally removed, but it’s a slightly smaller thorn,” Macey said.

For more information, visit www.romi.gov or call the Engineering Division at (248) 246-3260.

Call Staff Writer Sarah Wojcik at (586) 218-5006.

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