Main Street Sidewalks are finally approved - Top Story of 2011
Published 3:30 pm, Wednesday, December 28, 2011
After years of debate and discussion, the issue of sidewalks was finally put to rest this year. In an 8-2 vote, the Town Council recommended to Public Works that the project move forward with sidewalks on the west side Oct. 19, nearly six months after the issue was put to a referendum.
"This has been a real learning experience," Council member and current Selectman Beth Jones said. "I think the west side makes more sense. I'd made the decision prior to this that I would go with the east side if it was substantially less expensive, and that was going to be how I made the decision and it's not, so I say west."
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The project will break ground March 15 and handled by A&J Construction, as outlined in a $1.03 million contract. The money will come from a $4 million bond that was put to a referendum in April.
In a 1,781-1,541 vote at the April 27 referendum, residents approved using a $4 million road paving bond to potentially build new sidewalks.
In order for the referendum to pass, 15 percent of the electorate, or 1,850 voters, had to vote "yes" and also have the majority.
The divisive issue stemmed from the proposal to install new sidewalks on Main Street using bonded funds. The New Canaan Citizens for Responsible Spending wanted the entire $4 million to be used for road paving, not installing new sidewalks. Since a final approval has not been made on sidewalks, the CRS decided to put the whole bond, the source of funding for the initiative, to a referendum.
The notice of intent for collecting signatures for the referendum was initially brought forth on March 10. The CRS gathered more than 627 signatures, 5 percent of the voting population, to put bring the issue to a referendum.
Since the referendum failed, the bond, as originally put together by the Board of Finance, stays in place. The $4 million will be available for both road repair and sidewalks, pending Town Council approval for the sidewalks after the engineering study is completed over the course of the next few weeks.
The New Canaan Families for Safe Streets and Sidewalks, the organization supporting sidewalks and the "No" votes, were very pleased with the outcome.
"We are thrilled and grateful to the voters of New Canaan for the clear message they have sent the Town Council that safety matters and that decisions about roads and pedestrian safety need to be made by our elected representatives after due consideration of all the facts, not by election-style referendums," the statement said. "We hope that going forward we can treat each other with respect, even when we disagree fundamentally. Regardless of where we live in town, as New Canaanites, we are all neighbors."
The sidewalk proposal has been in place for some time. In 2007, Public Works did a safety survey with South School parents. In that survey, Assistant Director of Public Works Tiger Mann said, 85 percent of respondents noted high-speed vehicles, 85 percent noted a high volume of traffic, 58 percent noted sidewalk deficiencies and 70 percent said that if there were new continuous sidewalks then they would most likely allow their children walk to school.
"The number one concern they came up with was a lack of continuous sidewalks in their area," Mann explained.
"If we think we will build it, they will come, they are already there," Katherine Ong, co-president of the South Elementary School PTC, said about usage at the public hearing on March 3. "We are on Main Street and we are asking and pleading that you please continue the sidewalks down Main Street so that we have a safe community for our children to walk to school and for us to continue a healthy environment."