Illegal public sidewalk stirs controversy

The WBCDC could face a lawsuit and fines from the city, but its executive members said the sidewalk was a matter of safety.

Lolla Mohammed Nur

The sidewalk that connects Fifth Street and Cedar Avenue looks typical at first glance. What you wouldnâÄôt know is that it was illegally built by the West Bank Community Development Corporation on city property without a city permit. The WBCDC could face a lawsuit and fines from the city, but its executive members said the sidewalk was a matter of safety. âÄúIf anything, the city should be sued for the accidents that have happened,âÄù said Anne Gomez, president of the WBCDC board. The 150-foot-long, 4-foot-wide sidewalk was built after WBCDC pushed the city for five years to take on the task. âÄúWe were just tired and didnâÄôt want another winter to have people walking on dangerous, slippery gravel,âÄù Gomez said. âÄúIt was endangering residents, and the community has a lot of seniors.âÄù WBCDC members even organized a campaign called Save Our Sidewalk, collecting 200 signatures from residents who wanted it built. The city agrees a sidewalk needed to be built, but itâÄôs concerned the sidewalk was built on city property without being notified. Ward 2 Councilman Cam Gordon said he was close to bringing the city to a consensus on building the sidewalk soon. Only an easement from the WBCDC was needed, which the WBCDC claims it didnâÄôt know about. The easement wouldâÄôve allowed people to pass over private property âÄî owned by the WBCDC âÄî that the sidewalk connects to. But the sidewalk now blurs what is public and what is private, Gordon said. âÄúThings are confusing now, because I donâÄôt know if itâÄôs a public or a private sidewalk,âÄù he said. Gordon said communication on both sides couldâÄôve been better. âÄúThe WBCDC didnâÄôt know the progress we made, and they couldâÄôve made a better job of saying theyâÄôre interested in building the sidewalk before winter,âÄù he said. âÄú[If we knew], we couldâÄôve made sure it was built to the right standards and in the right place,âÄù Gordon said. âÄúIt might have to be torn down in the future.âÄù Kristin Guild, manager of business development at the Department of Community Planning and Economic Development, said the city was slow to respond to WBCDCâÄôs request because of concerns about illegal gang activity in the area. âÄúWe have âÄòno trespassingâÄô signs up there which will be hard to enforce if thereâÄôs a public sidewalk on the way,âÄù she said. Guild added that typically, the contractors who build a sidewalk provide reports to the city on the concreteâÄôs composition. âÄúMy guess is those tests werenâÄôt done. It would be difficult for us to assess the quality,âÄù Guild said. âÄúWe know nothing about the quality of the concrete and how thick it is âĦ We havenâÄôt inspected it and we donâÄôt even know if it was built by a contractor.âÄù And because it wasnâÄôt built by the city, Guild said she doesnâÄôt know who will maintain it. âÄúWe want to do what is going to be the right thing for Cedar-Riverside,âÄù she said. âÄúIf keeping it for a little while will work, then fine. But if it wonâÄôt work, weâÄôre going to do something else.âÄù Tim Mungavan, the WBCDC executive director, said the sidewalk was built by a private contractor and cost $3,500, but he doesnâÄôt know if it follows guidelines. âÄúWe all agree itâÄôs temporary until the Dania Hall site gets developed,âÄù he said. âÄúThese are just little problems for which there are easy solutions.âÄù Guild said the Department of Community Planning and Economic Development will meet with the WBCDC executive committee in the next few weeks to discuss who will maintain the sidewalk and whether it will be inspected.