ES Council makes headway on sidewalk issue

Friday, December 18, 2009 ~ Updated 5:00 PM

By E. Alan Long

EUREKA SPRINGS -- A discussion of Ordinance 2112 governing sidewalks went nowhere until the original proposal was revived with a new number as Ordinance 2113 last Monday evening during the Eureka Springs City Council meeting.

The ordinance, if approved, will provide for continuity with pre-existing sidewalk surfaces, placing responsibility on property owners to maintain sidewalks abutting their property in compliance with Americans with Disabilities Act pedestrian access stipulations.

While the city's limestone sidewalks account for only one point with the National Register of Historic Places, the ordinance requires that historic limestone be repaired and refinished wherever possible, or replaced with similar limestone or imprinted and tinted concrete in a pattern and color approved by the Historic District Commission.

Where no sidewalks exist owners have the option of limestone or imprinted and tinted concrete. Sidewalks within the Historic District along 27 streets may be poured concrete, and board sidewalks will not be approved except for replacement of those in existences as of July 25, 2005.

Safety evaluation

The ordinance also assigns a sidewalk safety team of personnel from the Building and Public Works departments to evaluate sidewalk safety and ADA compliance, with provisions to notify property owners in person or by mail.

Councilman Mickey Schneider introduced a discussion of rubber sidewalks, saying they could be created to match any adjoining surface.

"I couldn't find anything bad," she said of her research, which included the program of City of Santa Monica, Calif., where the technology has proven to benefit the problem of ficus tree roots.

Council member James DeVito countered, saying that his research showed that the rubber sidewalks have about a 13-year lifespan, a quarter of the 50- to 60-year lifespan of concrete sidewalks. "It's not a good fit," he said.

That prompted Schneider to say that she had been told by the company that no maintenance was needed for at least 20 years.

Council member Beverly Blankenship stated that the ordinance should be sent back to the Planning Commission, or council could stick provisions for rubber sidewalks in it.

Council member Joyce Zeller suggested that a test strip be put down to show how it behaves. Council member Patrick Brammer questioned how rubber sidewalks would fit into Historic District guidelines and suggested the proposal be sent to the HDC before the council considers it.

A native son's view

Alderman Butch Berry, the only native Eurekan on the city council, argued that rubber sidewalks are more expensive than concrete, and stated that stone sidewalks are a "significant part of Eureka Springs history and downtown."

Blankenship countered that rubber sidewalks would not look the same as limestone or concrete, and cautioned that "We need to start fixing sidewalks ... we've got to move forward."

Blankenship also noted that "Now limestone is, by law, to be replaced with limestone. It's just not enforced. I'm trying to unrestrict law for imprinted concrete on the Loop."

After City Attorney Tim Weaver said the original ordinance could be renumbered to 2113 and placed on its first reading, council recessed to allow time for copies of the original to be made, then approved its first reading by a vote of 4 to 2 with Zeller and Schneider voting no.

In other business, a lighting ordinance, referred to council by the Planning Commission, was sent to the city attorney for review.

New business

In new business, a resolution to support the application for a $17,000 grant from the  Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism for playground equipment at Harmon Park, was read. If approved, the equipment would be used to create a skateboard ride simulation and other apparatus, including a type of mini-backhoe to be used with a pile of gravel.

Also, Blankenship volunteered for appointment to the City Advertising and Promotion Commission in January.

As the meeting came to a close, Mayor Dani Joy praised the council saying, "You're doing a good job of tackling things that have not been tackled in many, many years."

Cutting the budget

In a Dec. 14 work session, the council found $10,300 in budget cuts for 2010, leaving some $40,000 more to be found when November figures come in.

While council member Zeller stated that the budget is not in crisis mode yet, it was noted that a 3 percent decrease in sales tax is anticipated in 2010 with the country facing an uncertain economic picture.

Early on in discussion, payroll was essentially declared off limits.

Cuts thus far consist of $4,000 from the mayor's education/travel, $4,800 from the police department, and $4,000 from fire department maintenance.

A major sticking point on the 2010 budget appears to be The Auditorium, followed by the other eight buildings the city has to maintain. DeVito suggested that The Aud could be sold or mothballed, but noted the city would still have to pay insurance on the building if mothballed. His suggestion of using local talent for a variety show to raise money went nowhere.

Zeller commented that the city gets "sued for a lot of dumb stuff," and learned that while council members can countersue, the legal costs have to be paid out of their private pockets.

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