Council grants sidewalk relief

Posted: September 17, 2013

The Winchester Star

WINCHESTER — They might not have realized it, but property owners and/or renters in Winchester had a potential burden lifted by City Council last week.

The councilors voted 9-0 to approve an ordinance repealing the section of City Code that made property owners or occupiers responsible for repairing sidewalks adjacent to their property.

Perry Eisenach said Monday the ordinance hadn’t been enforced for at least the seven years that he’s been Winchester’s public services director and probably considerably longer. The councilors had no desire to start having residents or business owners pay to repair sidewalks that are owned by the city.

“It’s been longer than [seven years] since it’s been enforced uniformly the way it was intended when it was adopted,” Eisenach said. “If it would have been enforced, we wouldn’t have 50 miles of sidewalks in very poor condition.”

Owners remain responsible for snow removal on sidewalks adjacent to their property.

The repealed ordinance called for the Public Works Department to notify property owners by mail when they needed to fix their sidewalks. If an owner did not make the repairs, a tenant could be made to do so but was allowed to deduct the cost from his rent.

If the repairs weren’t made, the city was authorized to have them made and a lien could be placed on the property to recover the cost of the work.

The ordinance became part of the City Code in 1959. It last was amended in 1995, when a provision was added to make curb ramps mandatory at intersections to ensure compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.

The city’s recently adopted sidewalk master plan indicates that it costs about $80 per linear foot to replace sidewalks. However, factors such as whether drainage inlets or curb and gutter need to be replaced as part of the project can boost the cost significantly.

That’s the cost for the city. Eisenach said that in many instances, the average property owner would pay more because he would not benefit from savings the city likely receives by doing long sections of sidewalk at a time.

During recent infrastructure work, Eisenach said, the city has not billed property owners for the cost of sidewalk replacement performed as part of the projects.

The city also has been taking the lead in injuries occurring on sidewalks.

Steve Corbit, who handles risk management for Winchester, said that in the 10 years he’s been on the job, the city has processed claims resulting from sidewalk-related injuries.

The claims are forwarded to VML Insurance Programs, a Virginia Municipal League-affiliated carrier. Corbit estimated that he receives three to five sidewalk-related claims each year, with claimants eligible to receive help with medical bill payment.

— Contact Vic Bradshaw at vbradshaw@winchesterstar.com