First step

Ward 4 Councilman Paul Marnecheck and Ward 3 Councilman Dan Langshaw are surveying residents to determine whether or not they are willing to pay for sidewalks.

NORTH ROYALTON – Two councilmen are surveying their residents in an attempt to gather feedback to determine, once and for all, how residents, the ones who would shoulder any sidewalk installation financially, feel about the great sidewalk debate. And the results are in for one – residents like the idea of sidewalks but don’t really want to pay for them.

Ward 4 Councilman Paul Marnecheck launched his survey first through Survey Monkey in October and that survey is now closed. Ward 3 Councilman Dan Langshaw did likewise this month and his survey remains open through Jan. 4 at surveymonkey.com/r/NKGPCRQ.

Both asked residents whether or not they currently have sidewalks and if not, would residents be willing to pay for them. They were also asked if there are any areas they believed sidewalks should be installed.

Of the 119 Ward 4 residents who responded, 59 percent indicated they would not be willing to pay for sidewalks in front of their home, 16 percent said they would and 25 percent checked ‘other.’ Marnecheck also asked for their thinking on why they would or would not be willing to foot the bill.

The rationale most gave is that sidewalks are simply not a necessity, so they do not want to pay for the additional expense. This confirmed what Marnecheck suspected all along.

“I did this to get some perspective, to start the dialogue with residents, to pare down and clarify if there was even any interest. And, it sounds like their concerns are the same ones I thought they would be, ‘I would like sidewalks but it really isn’t worth too much money to me,’” he said, paraphrasing responses. “It’s more of a confirmation that my instinct was correct.”

Langshaw asked if residents would be more willing to pay if they could make small payments over the course of 10 to 20 years (an assessment) and how residents feel about sidewalk installation between state Route 82 and the new city hall, an area most councilmen agree would be a great first step. He also asked his residents to list specific areas they believe sidewalks are needed anywhere in the city, not just in Ward 3.

His survey results will be ready in a few more weeks once the survey closes.

Sidewalk talk is nothing new. The topic has been debated for five years or better, a discussion that was primarily led by Ward 1 Councilman John Nickell and Ward 6 Councilman Dan Kasaris. But before pouring any concrete, the bulk of council wanted to pursue an independent study to ensure any suggestions weren’t just going where officials wanted but where truly necessary and most suited.

That year-long study was just completed by the Northeast Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency planners. Much of those suggestions, which have been highly publicized, are based on connectivity in and around the town center and parks.

Now that the study is in hand, most agree sidewalks are something the city is unable to shoulder financially, meaning any sidewalk plan would have to be done through resident assessments. Because of this and to prevent walking in circles, Council President Larry Antoskiewicz has said that if councilmen are interested in accomplishing any of the study recommendations, it is imperative they approach their residents, door to door or at ward meetings, and gain support before a project will seriously be considered.

“We need to hear from the people that will be paying the bill. I’m not voting for a sidewalk until I hear from the residents it involves,” he said. “I’m not trying to stop sidewalks. What I am trying to stress is that any time we are looking to do this type of a project, councilmen have to directly communicate with the residents that would be involved in the financial burden of the project.”

Marnecheck wanted to give residents anonymity and a chance to really mull over the concept. That’s why he devised the survey.

“I don’t like imposing. This topic was a little bit more of a serious notion, something I wanted them to stop and really think about, to kick over in their brain, on their own time and to be able to do so anonymously without me standing over them,” he said. “This was the first step to tell me, ‘are there areas of my ward that do not have sidewalks where residents are willing to install sidewalks?’ If so, then I would go meet with them.”

Aside from Nickell and Kasaris, Langshaw has also become a staunch supporter of sidewalks.

“I think the majority, at least, are ready to take some steps forward on this,” he said. “Council has been debating this for over five years. We have a comprehensive study that has indicated key areas and really that study expanded on the ’14 master plan and even the one before that with increasing the connectivity of parts of the city with sidewalks or bike lanes or you name it.”

He said it all boils down to where and when.

Most agree on beginning with the section between the new city hall and state Route 82.

“Something I promised to do was to listen to my residents and get more feedback. We now have these recommendations. This survey is a chance for my residents to have a say on where they want sidewalks, and are there any areas we may have missed?” Langshaw said.

It’s been thoroughly debated on council and Langshaw said this is the last opportunity to garner as much input from residents as possible before taking the next step, which would be policy, a step that needs to be made he said.

“It’s been thoroughly debated, discussed, reviewed and now we are at a point in the legislative process that we have to make a decision on policy and what legislation should come as result of this. We are at a critical point in the long-heated debate, we are literally at the end of the sidewalk. In 2016 it’s time to take action, it’s just a matter of what is the appropriate course of action. Do we start small with baby steps at city hall?” he added. “Maybe that’s the answer.”

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