HYATTSVILLE – The plans to revamp the sidewalk policy and install sidewalks in Hyattsville is set to continue after legal counsel has determined that the city does not need abutting property owner consent to build sidewalks on public rights of way. The legal decision, made by Hyattsville attorney Richard T. Colaresi, came after a January […]
HYATTSVILLE – The plans to revamp the sidewalk policy and install sidewalks in Hyattsville is set to continue after legal counsel has determined that the city does not need abutting property owner consent to build sidewalks on public rights of way.
The legal decision, made by Hyattsville attorney Richard T. Colaresi, came after a January city council meeting where Councilman Patrick Paschall questioned if the city had been working against its own charter by not seeking consent of the community to build sidewalks.
The city is currently updating and clarifying its 2006 sidewalk policy after residents raised issue with the city over a possible sidewalk installation in University Hills. At the Jan. 4 council meeting, the policy presented was a revised draft of the new policy; however, at the time, Paschall said he felt it was irresponsible to continue with the policy until the city’s charter was clarified.
Article 8 in the Hyattsville charter reads that the city council is authorized to construct sidewalks, curbs, gutters and other street and alley improvements in the city where it is determined needed for the benefit of the residents, but also says “before any permanent street, sidewalk, curb and/or alley improvements shall be made under the provisions of this section, the city council shall obtain from more than 50 percent of the property owners of record abutting upon such street, sidewalk, curb and/or alley their written approval of such permanent improvement and/or improvements.”
However, in Article 7, the charter reads that the city shall have the power to “grade, lay out, construct, reconstruct, pave, repave, repair, extend or otherwise alter sidewalks on city property along any public way or part thereof,” with no mention of approval.
In January, Colaresi said his predecessor’s opinion was that if the city is not charging or making a special assessment against the tax, then you have the authority to do what you wish. If you are going to do a special assessment against all abutting property owners you must use the procedures for consent.”
At the council meeting on Monday, City Administrator Tracey Nicholson read Colaresi’s official legal opinion on the matter, which stated the city does not have to seek consent to build sidewalks.
“The conclusion is inescapable that the city has the authority to place sidewalks within the public rights of way without receiving the consent of abutting land owners, unless the city intends to specially assess the costs,” Colaresi wrote.
Councilman Joseph Solomon said he appreciated the hard work of city staff to clarify the charter, but said he wishes the council did not have to spend time on the clarification when Leslie Riddle, the city’s public works director, had provided the same explanation of the charter previously.
However, Councilman Thomas Wright said the clarification was greatly needed since many residents were confused about the perceived contradiction between the charter’s two articles.
“I don’t think we were second guessing anyone. I think there had been some trouble understanding the differences between Article 7 and Article 8 for quite some time. Lots of residents had the same viewpoints, the same concerns, the same misunderstandings and so I think this was a good way to actually get it up front and on the table and actually bring clarity,” Wright said.
Paschall said the attorney’s analysis still seems to say the opposite of what the charter reads and suggested that if the city wishes to move forward with Colaresi’s opinion, then the charter should be clarified by a rewrite.
Moving forward, the city will work further on its sidewalk policy. Riddle said the council had asked for there to be a review of the policy after concerns came up about how the policy handles tree canopy, stormwater management and difficulties in placing sidewalks.
At the meeting Monday, council was given a draft of the policy, which will be up for approval at the March 21 meeting. The draft includes clarifications of the 2006 policy, adds criteria for the city to meet if it wishes to forego an installation, and sets out guidelines on how residents can petition their preference for or against sidewalks in their area.
The city’s department of public works will hold a public hearing on the drafted policy on March 23 after the city’s estimated approval of the draft on March 21.
Wright said he had concerns about the meeting being after the council approves the draft and worries the community will not have enough input in the decisions.
“If council approves it on the 21st and then we have a meeting on the 23rd, if there was some kind of feedback from the community, it is kind of too late to even think about those things,” he said.
However, Riddle said the draft policy, up to this point, has been drafted completely from public input and staff recommendations.
“I think that we’re there and I think that to move it forward would be appropriate,” she said.