ORANGE — Council President Brandon Duber is asking council to consider requiring sidewalks in private developments. Mr. Duber said that the lack of sidewalks causes a safety hazard and the village is ultimately responsible for protecting residents.
“This is a safety issue that developers skirt to maximize profits,” he said.
A housing development can be private or public, depending on whether the road is private or public. A public road is maintained and plowed by the village, while the developer would be responsible for a private road within a housing development.
Mr. Duber said that private roads in housing developments often are more narrow and winding than public roads in the village, such as Lander, Brainard and Harvard roads. The village ordinances require developments with a public road to have sidewalks, and Mr. Duber said that he wants to send a consistent message to all developments in the village.
Village Planner Dave Hartt said that the village could amend the ordinances to require sidewalks in developments with private streets, but there should be some exceptions.
“[The sidewalks] ought to be subject to a waiver requirement that can be granted by the Planning and Zoning Commission. The general expectation is if the private street is serving a single family subdivision and looks and feels like a single family subdivision, then yes the private street ought to have sidewalks,” Mr. Hartt said. “But if it’s a small, little street, or it’s part of a cluster development that has different unit types or townhouses and things of that sort, then I think the planning commission should have the authority to waive that street requirement.”
Mr. Hartt listed various factors to consider for a sidewalk waiver, including the size of the street, whether alternative pedestrian circulation is being provided, if there’s a small cul-de-sac or development or if there’s a common driveway.
“If you’re going to do this, it’s important to have the waiver requirement in there,” he said.
Mayor Kathy Mulcahy mentioned that if sidewalks are required, private roads may start being built to the same specifications for a public road. The requirements for public and private roads are similar, according to temporary village Engineer Susan Hamilton, but private roads are often more narrow than public roads. Council members asked if all roads built in developments would be public roads in the future, leaving the village responsible for repair work and snowplowing in the winter. Mr. Hartt agreed, saying that requiring sidewalks on private streets could raise that issue. Councilman Jud Kline said that a sidewalk requirement could diminish the incentive for a private road.
“It seems to me that one of the attractions for building a private street is the fact that they don’t have to build all of the things that you would have to build for a public street. That enhances the cost for the development project,” Mr. Kline said. “You don’t have the same infrastructure overhead that you might otherwise have in building to the standards of public streets. If we push the envelope toward the public street requirement, then there’s almost no incentive to have a private street.”
Law Director Steve Byron spoke on the legality of the issue, stating that council always has the ability to change the standard for sidewalks in developments. If council did pass such a requirement, it could not be applied retroactively, so it would not apply to developments that are already built.
“The new risk that would exist would be if somebody requested a waiver and you didn’t grant it, and that’s true of any administrative decision,” he said. “Any time you’re administering the code, any request could be denied and could subject the village to litigation.”
No legislation has been drafted for this issue that was discussed at the June 5 council meeting.